Can Mugabe order elections like a take-away!
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Despite the regime's diversionary tactic of playing victim over the fallout from Mugabe's latest expensive visit to Singapore, the reasons for hurried polls deserve a thorough interrogation. As the President, his actions are open to public scrutiny.
Other than ageing and health woes, Mugabe's agitation for quick polls is arguably influenced by fear - the fear of a new constitution which is likely to trim presidential powers; the fear of losing a free and fair election and the fear of recriminations for the sins of the past. But elections are not like â€˜Singapore noodles' which can be made to order.
Constitutional experts have pointed out that under the present heavily amended constitution which Mugabe now prefers for elections, the Executive headed by the President has too much power that impinges on the lives of ordinary people.
Although, the situation has changed slightly since the GPA brought about the principle of consultation, Mugabe still gets his way.
The Executive has power:
a. over the Legislature e.g. the President has power to appoint members of the Senate who include Provincial Governors and so summon, adjourn and dissolve Parliament
b. over the Security Forces e.g. the President is the Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces
c. over the Judiciary â€“ the President appoints judges
d. to appoint Cabinet Ministers and Permanent Secretaries
e. to appoint Ambassadors and members of constitutional commissions
f. to declare war and make peace â€“ the President can do that
g. to exercise the prerogative of mercy â€“ the Presidential amnesty
h. to confer honours and precedence e.g. to declare hero status
The most notorious piece of legislation is the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act (PPTM Act) which allows the President to make regulations on virtually any subject, if he thinks urgent action is needed in the general public interest.
The controversial act was authored by the late justice minister, Eddison Zvobgo in 1986 when the late Canaan Banana was a ceremonial President as a â€˜stop-gap measure' in urgent cases and for 6 months (e.g. when Parliament was in recess).
However, since Mugabe became an executive president, the Act has courted controversy especially ahead of elections. For example, in 1995, Mugabe used presidential powers to create positions of executive mayors because Zanu-pf was losing political support in urban areas.
In 1997, he used the same powers to ban industrial action after a spate of strikes. In December 2003, government altered land regulations to allow the State to compulsorily acquire farm machinery and equipment from farms previously owned by white land owners (see The Zimbabwe Standard, "Mugabe accused of abusing presidential powers," 24/02/04).
In 2008 Presidential Powers Statutory Instrument no.46 of 2008 (Amendment of the Electoral Act) was criticised for allowing police officers back into polling stations but most importantly made incapacitated voters to vote in the presence of police officers.
To critics, the 27 June 2008 presidential election was heavily militarised and the resultant ballot was â€˜more a barometer of people's fears than of people's choices.' Presidential powers were criticised too. Little had changed from previous polls.
To borrow from Professor Booysen, "The Zanu-pf government of Zimbabwe in the period 1999-2002 used a complex combination of constitutional-legal and paralegal-supralegal measures in conducting elections and reclaiming liberation movement zeal" (Susan Booysen, â€˜The Dualities of Contemporary Zimbabwean Politics,' African Studies Quarterly, Africa.ufl.edu/asq/v7i2a1,htm).
The implications for democracy are overwhelming considering what happened prior to and during 2008 - with all the violence, the emergence of a culture of impunity, corruption, greed, looting, the selective application of the rule of law, perverted justice and the violation of human rights.
Based on experience and given the possibility of Mugabe using or abusing the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act in a partisan manner in a future election, it makes a lot of sense to control the powers of the Executive especially the President (whoever gets elected), through key reforms including:-
a. the amendment to the Electoral Act;
b. getting rid of alleged CIO operatives within the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission;
c. amendment of the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act;
d. the restoration of the Diaspora Vote also called dual citizenship for millions in exile;
e. cleaning-up of the voters' roll said to have an estimated 2 million ghost voters;
f. adoption of a new democratic constitution in a peaceful referendum;
g. reforming the security sector by doing away with political partisanship (should emulate the Malawi Defence Forces for example);
h. enactment of a Human Rights Commission Act with powers to investigate pre-2008 abuses;
i. restoration of public confidence in the judiciary e.g. being non-partisan.
Any sham elections in Zimbabwe will definitely destabilise the country and the region more than the 2008 presidential run-off did, therefore people should reject them.
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Source: Clifford Chitupa Mashiri
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