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The Arrest of Opposition MPs and The Renewed Fight to Protect The Constitution


Photo Credit: News24

Last week, the 10th Parliament of Zimbabwe was sworn in at the new Chinese-funded Parliament Building in Mt Hampden on the outskirts of Harare. With 176 MPs in the National Assembly, the ZANU-PF parliamentarians numbers-wise sauntered in knowing that they held a sizable majority. Such a substantial majority was expected. However, much to their silent ire, 103 seats have been taken up by the opposition Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC). They have crossed the magical threshold of one-third of parliamentary seats.


The Numbers


For the first time since the 7th Parliament of 2008 (Fig 1), ZANU PF is significantly below the absolute majority of above 2/3 in the National Assembly, the Lower House of Parliament, which has massive ramifications for Zimbabwe’s short to medium-term landscape. For a 2/3 majority, ZANU PF required 187 seats. With 179 seats, that means they fell short by 8 seats. By-elections for the Gutu West Member of Parliament seat is going to be held by the end of the year and history would suggest ZANU PF will win that seat, leaving them 7 seats shy of 187 seats.


Why Opposition was Successful?


Despite the infighting that has occurred within the main opposition since 2005 as well as electoral rigging including voter suppression, lack of access to voters’ roll and constituency delimitation processes supporting the incumbent ZANU PF, the main opposition in its different stripes from MDC to MDC-T to MDC-A and most recently CCC, has held firm ground in parliament. Their worst performance was in the 2013 election at 25.9% and their best was 47.6% in the 2008 National Assembly. In this election, CCC was able to reduce the number of double candidatures that ran under its emblem compared to the 2018 election. In general, the main opposition was able to present a more united front after discrediting the MDC-led by Mwonzora to the extent that Mwonzora pulled out of the 2023 election which was an election turning into political suicide for him. As a result, for the first time this millennium, there are only two political parties and no independent candidates in parliament.


Arrests of Opposition MPs


Consequently, this new legislative landscape has divided power more than ever before directly between ZANU PF and CCC. Despite the current Presidential results still being under dispute, ZANU PF led by Emmerson Mnangagwa are already preparing the ground to amend the constitution for him to be able to run for a third term in 2028, as he has famously said before, “2030, tinenge tiripo” meaning 2030, we will still be in power. However, he first hurdle towards that goal is getting the House of Assembly by 2/3 majority to agree to that amendment.


This provides context as to why two opposition members of parliament, namely, Maureen Kademaunga and Gift Ostallos Siziba have been arrested on what the general observer can see are frivolous charges. Frivolous as they may be, frivolity is in the eyes of those in power and ZANU PF has decided to ramp up the charges, a classic case of rule by law rather than rule of law. Unlike the 9th parliament in which ZANU PF was able to divide and conquer the opposition in parliament leading them to their absolute majority, the chances of that this time are slim. They have subsequently fallen back to arresting MPs with the aim of climbing over the 2/3 majority threshold. This tactic was prevalent in the 5th and 6th Parliaments (2000-2008).


Why Opposition Must Maintain Their 1/3 Parliamentary Threshold


All that said, arresting, and suspending at least 7 opposition MPs will take a lot of effort. It is within the political interests of the opposition to hold onto these seats because the longer Emmerson Mnangagwa cannot confirm a third term in office via constitutional amendment, the intra-party succession power struggles within ZANU PF will heighten. Their removal of the running mate clause via the 2nd constitutional amendment that was enacted in 2021 was another reminder that ZANU PF since its formation in 1963 has never had a change of power at the top without bloodshed or coup-like behavior. The possible implosion of ZANU PF might be a gateway to CCC attaining Presidential power.


Senate


Until now, the focus has been on the House of Assembly. However, Zimbabwe has a bicameral legislative system meaning there is also the House of Senate which houses 80 members. The Senate results 33 seats for ZANU PF, 27 seats for CCC, 18 seats for chiefs and 2 seats for Persons with Disabilities. Of those 80 seats, 60 were contested. If Senate seats were fully contested under the Proportional Representation system (a much fairer system compared to the dominant First past The Post), CCC would have 45% of the vote equating to 36 seats. However, that is diluted to 33.75% of the vote in Senate.


Since 2000 in the 5th Parliament, Chiefs have been provided legislative seats and they have consistently and loyally voted for ZANU PF-supported legislation. In effect, supposing the two senate seats for people with disability also vote for ZANU PF, ZANU PF controls 66.25%. Technically, 66.6% in parliament would be 53.3 seats. This should be rounded up to 54 seats, meaning that the pressure of National Assembly parliamentarians should be expected for senators too.


History Repeating Itself


Some commentators have pointed out that even if ZANU PF can bulldoze the amendment through parliament, the constitution has another protection clause namely Section 328 of the Constitution. Section 328 (7) deals with term-limit provisions and expressly states that any amendments to the constitution “does not apply in relation to any person who held or occupied that office, or an equivalent office, at any time before the amendment.” This means that even if Mnangagwa wants to extend to a third term, he cannot benefit from any change made. Moreover, such a change would require a referendum. These protection clauses although noble were wholly ignored with the 2nd amendment which changed the age-limit for judges to the benefit of the incumbent Chief Justice Malaba.


Conclusion


The Malaba case study is evidence enough to show that the legal protections provided by the constitution are going to be trampled on. This leaves the political factor of a good number of opposition members being in parliament as the only genuine avenue that can protect the constitution as it currently reads. The opportunity comes with potential leadership renewal in ZANU PF and protecting the basis of the country’s dream of a nation governed by the rule of law.


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