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Broaden participation in constitution making, U.S. expert

November 19, 2010 | Harare
Professor Andrew Arato, American Social scientist. (Photo: PAS, Harare)

American Social scientist, Professor Andrew Arato

A visiting American social scientist says there is need to broaden participation in the current constitution making process led by the Parliament of the Zimbabwe if it is to reflect diverse views and interests.

“Zimbabwe is in the midst of a very important process. The process is full of flaws -- not because parties are so active in it but because it was established without sufficient safeguards and without a sufficiently broad level of inclusion,” said Arato, the Dorothy Hart Hirshon Professor in Political and Social Theory at the New School for Social Research in New York.

“The constitution making process in South Africa included broad representation.  What happened here is a narrow representation.  Civil society views played a role in changing the nature of the negotiating process (in South Africa),” said the Professor.

Professor Arato is optimistic that the constitutional document that will be generated out of the current process will be better than Zimbabwe’s current constitution, which was negotiated out of Lancaster prior to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 and now has 19 amendments.   He complemented civil society for its monitoring of the COPAC outreach process and encouraged NGOs to be active participants in the thematic and drafting committees, both in participant and monitoring roles. 

He observed that the Kariba, NCA and the Law Society of Zimbabwe’s draft constitutions represent a significant improvement in terms of their bill of rights, noting that an eventual constitutional draft will likely take a leaf out of the available drafts.

Arato is in Zimbabwe on a visiting speaker program supported by the United States Embassy, although he stressed he does not speak for the United States government but as an independent academic expert.  Such speaker programs allow U.S. experts in different fields to share and gain knowledge by interacting with their counterparts in different parts of the world.

Arato spoke during a panel discussion at the Book Café organized by the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) November 18.  The discussion featured Sydney Chisi of the Youth for Democracy in Zimbabwe and Nixon Nyikadzino of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.  It occurred at a time when the constitution making process in Zimbabwe is moving towards the drafting stage.

“Parties play a major role in political life including constitution change. They played a very important role in the constitutional changes in South Africa,” he noted.  “Without power, no one has ever made a constitution anywhere in the world, and no one will ever. Constitution making involves reorganizing the power in the state -- you cannot do that without having the power already,” said Arato. 

Professor Arato served as a consultant for the Hungarian Parliament on constitutional issues in 1996-1997 at a time when constitutional amendments streamlined the judicial system and later modifications allowed Hungary to join the European Union.   ZimPAS

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