National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) leader and constitutional lawyer, Lovemore Madhuku believes the Constitution is the biggest hurdle to electoral reforms. He says his party is growing and will pursue electoral reforms differently from other opposition parties.
He also feels President Robert Mugabe is no longer fit to continue in office. Standard Reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) caught up with Madhuku (LM) and below are excerpts of the interview.
OM: Professor Madhuku, what is the current state of the NCA?
LM: The NCA was converted into a political party in September 2013 to address the political inadequacy of the existing political parties. We felt they were not committed to a genuine transformative plan that was agreed. This came out from the way the inclusive government was operating and the imposition of an undemocratic Constitution that was passed during that time.
OM: Since you were transformed into a political party, what impact have you made on the political landscape?
LM: We have made a huge impact. You should understand that to make an impact is not necessarily to win elections because we haven’t participated in a general election as yet. The by-election is meant to announce our existence now as a political party and make ourselves known as a way of building up on national existence.
OM: But your party has been dismally performing in the by-elections?
LM: That is not true. Our highest performance was when we got over 1 000 votes in the Chikanga Dangamvura by-elections. There are people that are over-exaggerating our underperformance. Every person who is attacking us does not understand our strategy. Our strategy is not to win the by-elections because in some places we are still unknown. The strategy is to be known on the ground and I think we must be judged after the 2018 general elections. It is illogical to say a party that participated and got say 89 votes in the case of Norton is worse than that which has not participated. You cannot compare that which is tangible and that which is speculative.
OM: There have been suggestions and talks surrounding a grand coalition of opposition parties to face Zanu PF in 2018. What is your position on that?
LM: We have no intention whatsoever to participate in anything called a grand coalition.
LM: Political parties are formed to pursue clear policies and principles. There is no existing party that has the same policies as NCA and we don’t believe a coalition must be founded on the basis of simply removing the existing government. Coalitions must be founded on shared policies and there is nothing like that at the moment. We believe elections must start with amending the Constitution. While other parties believe the Constitution is good and all that is needed is to amend the Electoral Act, we disagree with that approach.
OM: So is that the reason why you are not part of Nera?
LM: That is precisely the point. We support electoral reform but Nera starts on the premise that there is a good Constitution and we are starting on the premise that there is an undemocratic Constitution and electoral reforms must start with changing the Constitution. The NCA was in the initial meeting of Nera and our spokesperson Madock Chivasa was one of the key persons there. We disagreed on the content of the electoral reforms because some of the key players like the MDC-T kept on praising the Constitution because they were part of it and NCA could not accept that stance. Another issue, for example, Nera wants Justice Rita Makarau removed yet the Constitution makes it clear that the ZEC chairperson must be a judge or a former judge. If you don’t change that Constitutional provision you will still have another judge chairing ZEC. Further to that, the Constitution says it is the president who appoints the chair, so even if the Nera parties were to succeed in getting Makarau out, they would still have to wait for Mugabe to give them another chairperson. This makes the call for Makarau to step down ridiculous as long as it is not accompanied by the need to change the Constitution first. Therefore, we will go along with electoral reform in our own way which respects our view that the greatest electoral reform must start with Constitutional reform.
OM: So will you participate in the 2018 harmonised elections when parties like MDC-T are saying they will not participate without electoral reforms?
LM: We will participate and it will be our first general election. How can a sensible person take the MDC-T seriously on electoral reforms when they squandered an opportunity for permanent electoral reforms by imposing an undemocratic Constitution in 2013 when they were part of the inclusive government? They have been participating in general elections since 2000 and never missed an opportunity to participate in a general election, even at the height of the most undemocratic electoral framework. More seriously, they are celebrating [Temba] Mliswa’s victory in Norton under the current electoral framework and have even gone further to say it was their victory. They are endorsing the view that there is no need for electoral reforms. Is that not common sense that they endorsed Mliswa purportedly to test the waters and now that they have tested the waters and found them stable, who will listen to their calls of electoral reforms? They have just destroyed their own argument.
OM: What is going wrong with our opposition politics?
LM: There is nothing wrong. There is nothing wrong (and) people must accept the freedom of association. Even if we have 100 parties or more in Zimbabwe, it is for the electorate to decide. What is wrong is the Zanu PF closure of democratic space. We must be allowed to market our ideas through the public media and through emphasizing and insisting on freedom of assembly.
OM: In your own view, will protests work to remove Zanu PF and Mugabe given your past experience at the NCA?
LM: It is a mistake to think that the demonstrations being organised are designed to remove Zanu PF from power.
These are political campaigns. The removal of Zanu PF must be done through an election so we don’t believe you go to a demonstration to remove Zanu PF. You go to a demonstration to express your ideas and to demonise Zanu PF with an intention to encourage the electorate to vote for you when elections come. Demonstrations succeed as a way of spreading a message, not to remove a government. Governments should be removed through free and fair and democratic elections.
OM: The government is set to introduce bond notes. What’s your take on that?
LM: We are absolutely opposed to bond notes. They are really meant to do exactly what the old bearer cheques did, namely to loot all the resources that we have and leave them in the hands of the Zanu PF elite. The promulgation of the law allowing it by the president is clearly unconstitutional and we hope the Constitutional Court will set it aside.
OM: Finally, what is your view of President Robert Mugabe’s continued stay in power?
LM: Everyday he remains in office, he is insulting the intelligence of all of us. He has had 36 years in power. The country is facing economic challenges and he cannot manage it. He cannot even run his party and yet he still wants to remain the president. It is only fair that he steps down before 2018 to allow one of his subordinates to finish his term in terms of the Constitution before the general elections. Like every country in the world, Zimbabwe now needs a new leader who takes over with a different approach. He has done his part and must accept that we all have a limited role to play on this earth. There are some of his supporters who are being blasphemous in suggesting that in giving Mugabe a long life God wants him to rule. President Mugabe is not the only 92-year-old alive in this country and he must understand that he has not been given life to rule, but life to live.