Despite hopes that a new constitution will lead the way to free and fair elections, there are limited signs that Zimbabwe is heading for a peaceful transition to democracy.
Zimbabwe’s constitution-making process is moving into its last stage before a referndum as the Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) is putting the final touches on the draft constitution. Although the political parties seek to give the impression that COPAC is in charge of the drafting, but there is no doubt that the final draft will be a politically negotiated settlement between the parties in the Government of National Unity (GNU), ZANU-PF, MDC-T and MDC-M.
Looking back at the GNU’s disastrous track record, when it comes to finding solutions to Zimbabwe’s economic, political and social challenges, there is a high chance that the constitution will reflect the will of the political elite, rather than the people’s desire for a democratic and socially just Zimbabwe.
What is more worrying, however, is the GNU’s inability to change the political climate in Zimbabwe. For decades the political contest has been characterised by violent repression of pro-democracy forces, which culminated in the extreme levels of political violence during the 2008 elections.
Turning the culture of violence and impunity into a peaceful society based on democratic principles will as a minimum require a re-building of the professionalism in the police, military and court system, which have been heavily politicised in the past decades. Unfortunately the signs are pointing in the opposite direction. A recruitment campaign of ZANU-PF activists into the military and police and Iran’s pledges of military support to Zimbabwe, indicates what to expect as Zimbabwe moves towards the constitutional referendum and elections.
Even in the unlikely event that a democratic constitution is put forward for a referendum and Mugabe gives up his control of the security sector, there is no guarantee that this will lead to an end to the culture of violence and impunity, which has become part and parcel of Zimbabwean politics. Development of a genuine democracy must come from a broad-based mobilisation of democratic forces, which can push the political elite to become accountable to the people of Zimbabwe.