PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa have shifted their rivalry to the constitutional front after the Zanu PF leader moved to remove a clause on presidential running mates set to kick-in in 2023.

The MDC said the move by Mnangagwa’s Cabinet to amend the Constitution to scrap the running mates clause was a step backwards, and would be resisted by the country’s opposition.

Former Constitution Select Committee of Parliament (Copac) co-chair and now MDC deputy secretary for international relations, Douglas Mwonzora (pictured), said the resolution made by Cabinet last week should be resisted.

“The resolution by the Zimbabwean Cabinet to initiate key amendments to the Constitution represents a long march backwards. The current Constitution represents an incremental gain in Zimbabwe’s democratisation agenda. We have to resist these selfish amendments,” Mwonzora said.

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Mwonzora said the clause Zanu PF wanted to scrap off the Constitution was meant to deal with succession and bring stability to the country in the event of death or incapacitation of a sitting President.

“Under the running mate clause a presidential candidate chooses a Vice-President before elections. In the event of the President failing to complete his term for any reason that Vice-President automatically becomes President, this ensures smooth succession and stability of the country,” he said.

Mwonzora, who co-chaired Copac alongside Zanu PF’s Paul Mangwana and David Coltart (of the MDC-M) said government’s move was only meant to handle volatile and poisonous succession politics in the ruling party.

“By removing the running mate clause, Zanu PF is trying to deal with its succession conundrum due to its complex internal dynamics. It is wrong to manipulate a national Constitution to suit partisan agendas. Zimbabweans must defend their Constitution,” Mwonzora said.

But Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the clause which was a centre of contestation during the Constitution-making process, created two centres of power in the Executive. He added that the idea was foreign and would not work in Zimbabwe.

“You all recall that it was one of the contentious issues in the Constitution and it was deferred for 10 years, because it’s a borrowed concept from America,” Ziyambi said.

“It’s not even international best practice. Where we have a President who is given Executive authority, you would not want ordinarily to create a parallel centre of power. So we believe that it’s not desirable in our constitutional dispensation to create several centres of power. We would rather have a President elected by the people and then he appoints his team, the Vice-President and the Cabinet. It is what is practiced in southern Africa and in several other countries.”

Currently, the President has powers to appoint and fire his deputies. But if the deputy comes in through the running mate clause, he or she can only be removed from office through Parliament.