SENATORS from the Douglas Mwonzora-led opposition MDC-T party yesterday deviated from their party position on the Constitutional Amendment No 2 Bill and rejected clauses giving unfettered powers to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to handpick his deputies as well as judges, saying the proposed changes would entrench dictatorship.
The senators, who contributed to the Second Reading Stage of the Bill demanded that the “running mate” clause be retained after it was struck down by the Lower House.
Their counterparts in the National Assembly last Tuesday sided with Zanu PF legislators to pass the controversial Bill.
Clauses 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill propose to do away with the “running mate” provision which compels the President to be elected on the same ticket with his two deputies.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told senators that the proposed amendment was progressive.
“This is contrary to the practice of our Southern African Development Community (Sadc) partners, where the President appoints the other members of the Presidium. The President ought to have the freedom to choose, at any time, the Vice-President he is comfortable to work with,” Ziyambi said.
But Mwonzora’s legislators rejected the amendments.
Midlands senator Morgen Komichi said adopting the amendments would take back the country back to the Robert Mugabe era, where Executive powers were concentrated on the President.
“The powers that were taken and were being used during the old dispensation were too many. The President had too much power before the new dispensation and it created what we call a big man. In other words, it created a dictator. People become frightened when the Constitution is amended. The powers that were stripped from one person are now going back to that person (President),” Komichi said.
He said when a President dies, there must be a smooth transfer of power.
“When (Tanzanian) President (John) Magufuli passed away, the following day Madame President (Samia Suluhu Hassan ) was sworn-in and there was no problem. So why can we not do the same as Zimbabwe? Do we think that when people are chosen as the first and second Vice-Presidents, they become enemies of the President of the nation?”
Komichi also opposed the proposed clauses which allowed the President to appoint judges, saying it would compromise the independence of the Judiciary.
Harare Metropolitan senator Elias Mudzuri warned other senators against betraying the will of the electorate by passing a defective constitutional amendment
Masvingo senator Tichinani Mavetera (MDC-T) said: “I do not want to be reminded of the most embarrassing situation in the previous dispensation where we had a Vice-President being embarrassed in public and being told by the First Lady: ‘you work at the mercy of the President’.
“When you have the President appointing the Judiciary, we have got a problem. Where is that independence? One who appoints can disappoint, I know we have got party jackets, but those jackets are not above national jackets. This is an onerous responsibility bestowed on us to defend the institution called Parliament.”
Masvingo senator Esinath Rwambiwa then suggested that the proposed amendment should go for public hearing.
“The Constitution was crafted in 2013 and we all agreed that is what we want. We have not gone back to the people to tell them the status right now and we are already changing what they said. I do not think it is right. This came from the people and we should take it back to the people,” she said.
Zanu PF senators were all in support of the proposed constitutional amendments, saying the President should have the power to handpick his preferred deputies and judges.
Mashonaland West senator Joseph Chirongoma (Zanu PF) said: “We want the President there and he should be able to choose his own Vice-Presidents and that is what the people said. Even if we are to go back to consult the people, they will reiterate word for word what I have said in this House.”
Ziyambi said opposition senators were taking issue over nothing as the function of a Vice-President was simply to assist and nothing more.
“Now you have a President, the assistant does not want to assist and you need an impeachment process to remove him. So this clause was so badly done to the extent that I do not even understand why people are clamouring for it. It is one of the most useless clauses in the Constitution,” Ziyambi said.
He said the President should be allowed to exercise all Executive powers.
Among other proposed amendments of the Constitution in the Bill is the provision that says the 60 proportional representation seats must remain in force until 2033.
The Bill also proposes to exempt sitting judges from undergoing public interviews, and that judges should serve beyond retirement age of 70 years.
Senate will continue debating the Bill today.