Zim amends constitution

Harare – Zimbabwe’s National Assembly on Tuesday passed a landmark Bill allowing the first amendment to the country’s four-year old constitution in a change that will give the President unrestricted power to appoint the country’s top three judges.

Passage of the Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 1, voted for by 182 parliamentarians, allows the President to appoint the country’s chief justice, deputy chief justice and judge president.

It scraps provisions in the constitution where the President has to choose his nominees from a list submitted by the Judicial Services Commission, after an interview process that would have come up with three of the best suitable candidates.

The Bill also subordinates the Labour Court and Administrative Court to the High Court.

Passage of the Bill was, however, not a walk in the park for the ruling Zanu-PF party, which has a majority in the house.

The main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, threw all manner of spanners to have the vote postponed.

The process, which at best would not have taken more than 30 minutes, took over three hours as parliamentarians haggled over a variety of technical issues the opposition brought forward to stall the vote.

Tempers rose high on both sides of the house on different occasions.

Zanu-PF members of parliament reacted angrily to every delaying tactic by the opposition.

MDC parliamentarians on the other hand, disapproved of what they thought was a bid to fast-track changes to the new constitution without following due process.

Trouble began when Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is the leader of government business in the National Assembly, proposed to Speaker Jacob Mudenda that the amendment vote, which was third on the agenda, be dealt with first, ahead of debate on the national budget review statement presented to Parliament last week by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

“Leader of the government business has no unfettered discretion to do as he pleases,” objected MDC chief whip, Innocent Gonese.

“As a matter of procedure, let us exhaust the debate (on the budget). The Honourable Vice President jumped the gun; debate must not be prematurely closed.”

This was backed by other MDC MPs who took more than 30 minutes justifying to the Speaker, why it was not necessary to treat the vote on the constitutional amendment as a matter of urgency.

But eventually Mudenda ruled in favour of the Vice President.

When it came to the vote, the MDC once again raised issues including alleged disparities between what is contained in the Bill and what VP Mnangagwa said when he presented it to the house.

They demanded that the Bill be sent back to the first stage of the process and at some point wanted the vote be done via secret ballot. The Speaker threw out all the objections.

When voting was finally done, with Serjeant-at-Arms counting those in support of the passage of the Bill one by one, the final tally was 182.

At least 180 votes were required to pass the Bill, which now heads to the Senate.

After the voting was done, VP Mnangagwa lauded all parliamentarians for having debated the Bill, giving invaluable insight on the matter.

“This is what democracy is all about where all those who disagree are given an opportunity to air their views,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the majority carried the day.”  – New Ziana

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