Harare – Political analysts and legal experts say the MDC-T’s push for the official recognition of the leader of opposition in parliament is likely to hit a brick wall as the country currently has no constitutional provision for such an office.
According to press reports, Douglas Mwonzora, wants the MDC-T to formally second him to parliament as the official leader of opposition ahead of the incumbents, Dr Thokozani Khupe in the National Assembly and Engineer Elias Mudzuri in the Senate.
Mwonzora’s spokesperson, Witness Dube confirmed in an interview with the MDC-T aligned Business Times publication that his boss is seized with the matter.
“Our party leaders are yet to agree on the position of leader of opposition in parliament. We were supposed to have a meeting last week as leaders of the party and finalise the matter but it did not happen,” he said.
However an MDC-T official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Dube was merely expressing his personal opinion instead of the party position.
“The truth of the matter is that Senator Mwonzora, Dr Khupe, Eng. Mudzuri and Senator Komichi have never met this year. In fact there has never been any scheduled meeting for the four senior leaders of the movement.
“It is public knowledge that Madam Khupe is still in quarantine. I might as well add that she has not been asked to resign as leader of opposition in the lower house and, in any event how can she resign when parliament is still in recess?
“As it stands, the standing committee is in disarray and it’s not even clear who constitutes the standing committee. Eng Mudzuri is still undecided on whether to take up a position in the standing committee whilst Senator Komichi has disassociated himself from Mwonzora’s decisions and press reports attributed to him particularly in the Business Times publication,” the source said.
Weighing in on the developments, a Gweru based legal expert and legislator said the current Zimbabwean constitution has no provision for a leader of opposition in charge of both houses of parliament.
“The post of leader of the opposition is recognised in our law in the following manner: The Constitution, in section 151, makes provision for the Leader of the Opposition in each House, that is the Senate and the National Assembly and the two automatically become members of the parliamentary Committee on Standing Rules and Orders. Order 14 of the National Assembly’s Standing Rules and Orders makes the Leaders of the Opposition in both houses of parliament members of another important committee, the business of the House Committee.
“Currently, Madam Khupe is the leader of opposition in the lower house by virtue of her being the most senior MDC-T legislator in the lower house (National Assembly) whilst Eng Mudzuri is the current leader of opposition in the Upper House (Senate) as he was the most senior MDC-T Senator after the 2018 harmonised elections.
“There is no provision for a leader of opposition who is in charge of both houses of parliament and Mwonzora’s efforts are likely to hit a naught. For him to be a leader of opposition and sit in both houses, the constitution must first be amended.”
Pressed to comment on the implications of the country’s constitution being amended to accommodate a leader of opposition who sits in both houses of parliament, a prominent legal expert had this to say:
“The Constitution is the country’s foundational document and should not be amended to resolve every political problem that arises. Political problems should be resolved politically – by negotiation – and not by tinkering with the Constitution. If the envisaged amendment would result in Senator Mwonzora becoming a member of the lower house, it would allow an unelected person to sit and vote in the National Assembly – hardly a step towards representative democracy,” said the prominent legal expert.
Kennedy Chokuda, the clerk of Parliament, said he could not comment on the alleged plans to have an overarching leader of opposition and a legislator who sits in both houses of parliament.
“Ask the politicians,” Chokuda said.
“The position of leader of the opposition in the House has always been recognised, from way back, you recall Gibson Sibanda. At the moment, the leaders of the opposition in both Houses are recognised under standing orders and rules of Parliament. Dr Khupe is the leader of opposition in the National Assembly and Eng. Mudzuri is the leader of opposition in the Senate.
“The posts are there in Parliament and the leaders of opposition are consulted when business is done.”
Zimbabwe has had a parliamentary system since 1923 and the post of Leader of the Opposition was recognised at an early date.
It fell into abeyance in the 1960s, however, due to a reluctance on the part of the white government to recognise an African parliamentarian as leader of the opposition.
After Independence the post was not revived, probably because the first Prime Minister and then President, Mr Mugabe, was not inclined to recognise opposition in any form whatever.
In 2018 Mnangagwa, revealed that his government was considering a constitutional amendment that would accomodate an office of the leader of opposition in an interview with US television Bloomberg TV.
“We are going to introduce the office of the leader of the opposition in Parliament,” said Mnangagwa.
“This is what we are going to ourselves but under the former administration (Robert Mugabe’s) there was no formal recognition of the leader of opposition.
“Under my administration, we want to embrace the commonwealth approach where we recognize the leader of opposition.”
However, the plan fell flat after the Nelson Chamisa rejected the offer insisting that he won the 2018 Presidential election and it’s now highly likely that Zanu PF which commands a majority in both houses will pursue the constitutional amendment to establish the office of the leader of opposition.
The opposition leader’s spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda said Chamisa wants Mnangagwa to return the country to “legitimacy”, meaning recognising the MDC Alliance leader as winner.
“Our president is worried about the people’s welfare. The party and president Chamisa are not worried about creating new position but a return to legitimacy because the people voted for their leader but were cheated.
“We want the implementation of the people’s five point plan that includes a return to legitimacy, a clear economic rescue plan among others,” said Sibanda.