Zimbabwe constitution stifling opposition

Zimbabwe constitution stifling opposition

Leadership tensions and political wrangles within Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), resulted in the expulsions of lawmakers from the ninth parliament.

In April, MDC leader Thokozani Khupe won a Supreme Court judgement to be able to use the official name of the party, MDC-T.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa opposed Khupe and at the time of the 2018 national elections was the candidate of a coalition of political parties called the MDC-Alliance.

Khupe has been stamping her authority on the party by recalling elected Members of Parliament, causing them to lose their seats.

Some 31 legislators have been expelled in terms of section 129 (1) (K) of the constitution, which stipulates that “a member of parliament loses his/her seat if he/she ceases to be a member of the party under which they were elected”.

Settlement Chikwinya, MDC-Alliance legislator for Mbizo, Kwekwe [Midlands] says the recall of Members of Parliament goes against the principle of representation because one would not have wronged his constituency, but differed in internal politics with his political party.

“The recall of a member of parliament removes the right to enjoy representation for the electorate and the right to represent by the member of parliament,” Chikwinya tells the Africa Report.

Constitutional law expert, University of Zimbabwe professor Lovemore Madhuku, explaining the constitutionality of the recall of the legislatures said, “An MP loses his/her seat merely on account of being recalled by the party that he was voted into parliament at the time of election.

“They lose their seats yet they might still be capable and have confidence in the voters,” Madhuku said.

The electorate in parts of Zimbabwe have questioned the legality of the expulsions of members of parliament whom they had voted for in the 2018 elections.

For the electorate, the Supreme Court decision is considered biased, and aims to disenfranchise the people and weaken the opposition.

When the elections were held, Nelson Chamisa led MDC-Alliance was recognized as a political party, which appeared on the ballot paper and the MPs campaigned using the MDC-Alliance name instead of the MDC-T.

In Gwanda, Matabeleland South, Alice Masawi MDC-Alliance district secretary said the expulsions of the representatives in parliament had violated the voting rights of the electorate.

Masawi said: “A constituency without representation in Parliament lacks in terms of its issues being forwarded, there is no legislative response and it is left.”

Masawi added, “We elected the leaders of our choice to represent us in Parliament, the recall which was done mysteriously at a critical time when the country was battling with the deadly pandemic coronavirus has severely impacted on our rights as the electorate.”

“We voted for MDC-Alliance MPs led by Nelson Chamisa, not MDC-T led by Thokozani Khupe. It was very clear on the ballot paper and we know whom we voted for. The decision to recall our MPs is not justified. It has severely impacted on women as we strive for equal representation in parliament,” Masawi said.

The constitution decides, the voter does not decide. Madhuku said when it comes to the recall of members of parliament, the constitution decides.

Madhuku said the constitution of Zimbabwe impacted the voting rights of the electorate. “It gives voting rights with one hand and takes them away with another.”

“The constitution gives the electorate rights to vote for individuals as members of parliament. The voter can vote for a particular member of parliament but when in parliament the political party that sponsored the individual into parliament may choose to expel them, when they choose to do that the voter is not taken into account.”

Constitutional provisions, in terms of section 119 on legislative authority, mandates an elected member of parliament to represent the interests and objectives of a particular constituency and the nation in parliament.

Madhuku added: “If you have a right that is given by the constitution, that constitution may also take it away. It is the constitution that is saying and doing all this.”

Recalled proportional representation member of parliament, MDC-Alliance national chairperson Thabitha Khumalo said the recalls of opposition MPs from parliament was the death of democracy in the country, while reversing the gains aimed at equal representation of women in parliament.

Khumalo said: “Most female MPs who were recalled were in parliament through proportional representation, this has eroded our fight to achieve 50-50. They have robbed representation of women in parliament and women’s issues will be difficult to tackle because we have politicians who have taken over but not for the benefit of the livelihoods of Zimbabweans, but are there for the privileges.”

Women organizations that work to promote female leadership in decision making positions say the expulsions of women parliamentarians from the House of Assembly have disenfranchised women and reversed the gains that the country had made in gender equality.

A 2019 World Bank report estimates that women in Zimbabwe constitute 52.3 percent of the total population.

“Minimal representation that has been achieved has actually decreased. We have totally lost out, as women and also as a country,” Batanayi Mapinde, Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (Walpe) programs officer, said.

A 2020 Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition publication, The Southern Africa Power Matrix- Covid-19 and the Shrinking Democratic Space in SADC, exposes how authoritarian governments with the SADC region have closed democratic space following the outbreak of global pandemic, coronavirus.

“The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic  in Southern Africa in early March 2020 saw most governments passing emergency laws, decisions which have far-reaching consequences for political participation and inclusion, risking a new crisis of democracy,” read the report.

Chikwinya said that, “The subtraction of legislatures from parliament has further weakened the opposition in the 9th parliament.”

“It is a travesty of justice and dark period for democracy in Zimbabwe and the executive is using covid-19 regulations which are not superior to the constitution to stifle the holding of by-elections,” Chikwinya said.

The constitution of Zimbabwe provides that where a vacant has arisen in parliament it has to be filed within 90 days. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition reports that the government has used the global pandemic to stifle electoral and democratic rights of citizens.

“In Zimbabwe, the government used a cocktail of strategies to weaken the opposition, a position that was interpreted as interference into the oppositions’ factional differences and prop up the ruling party’s preferences. Elections were modified, postponed and cancelled considering the health risks posed by the pandemic,” read the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition report.

By-elections to fill the vacant posts have been postponed, without a budget for elections,  the elections are likely be held after July 2021.

Chikwinya says, “The objective of the ruling party is to destroy the opposition. The minister of finance refused to budget for by-elections this year. For us to hold by-elections we will need an extra supplementary budget that can only be debated in July 2021.”- The Africa Report

Ed: The current constitution was drafted by all the political parties in Zimbabwe including the opposition. It was approved by 94.5% of the voters in a referendum in March 2013. Some 3 079 966 voters approved the constitution and only 179 489 voted against it.