Zimbabwe advised to be cautious before amending constitution

By Almot Maqolo

Election watchdog, Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) says the government have not presented a cogent and persuasive case for amending the constitution at this stage. Monitoring the conduct of elections and the rules that affect elections are important parts of the core business of ZESN.

The southern African nation is proposing to amend the constitution and some of the proposed changes affect the conduct of elections.

In December last year, the Zimbabwe government published the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill (Constitutional Bill) in the Extraordinary Government Gazette. This was the formal commencement of the special procedure to amend, for the second time in two years, the Constitution of Zimbabwe which was adopted following a popular referendum in 2013.

The Constitutional Bill includes proposals that affect the conduct of elections in the country. While the election watchdog acknowledges that the Constitution is not set in stone, it encourages caution and restraint before changing it, particularly so not long after its adoption and before some parts have been implemented.

“This is not because ZESN has a rigid view against constitutional amendments. On the contrary, ZESN acknowledges that there may be sound reasons for changing the Constitution such as correcting errors or gap-filing,” it said.

However, it does not believe that in the current circumstances there is enough reason for changing the Constitution. Instead, ZESN urges the authorities to implement those parts of the Constitution that have not yet been fully implemented before taking steps to amend them.

Also it is concerned that some of the amendments point towards centralization of power in the hands of the President and therefore lead to an authoritarian style of government.

“Significantly, the changes to rules of appointing judges affect the independence of electoral referees and therefore tilt the electoral playing field in favour of the incumbent. This will lead to more concerns and charges that elections are not free and fair, which negatively impacts the legitimacy of elections.”

ZESN said it does not believe that the proposed amendments are warranted and therefore urges the government to reconsider its position.

The proposed amendments which the election watchdog said will have a direct impact on elections includes the election of Vice Presidents, delimitation of electoral boundaries, composition of provincial and metropolitan councils and the extension of the women’s parliamentary quota.

The introduction of the youths’ parliamentary quota, the appointment of judges of Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. Lastly, the appointment of the Prosecutor-General.

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