Powers of the president need trimming
Just like many African tyrants, Zimbabwe’s strongman, Robert Mugabe’s larger-than-life ego came full circle last week when he decreed that only God can remove him from power!
Mugabe, 84, is so powerful that at most times he seems immortal. But the truth is, there comes a time when we all have to leave the stage. This is not alien to politicians either. What is of essence, however, is how our leaders opt to give up power. Do they want to be carried out on a stretcher like Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda or to die a lonely life with a dollar stuffed briefcase like Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga?
Whatever the scenario leaders need to be cognisant of the fact that in this new world order where democracies are sprouting across the globe they can’t use extremism as a tool for any purpose. Mugabe has on many occasions locked up his chief political rival Morgan Tsvangirai- denying him a chance to campaign for his ideas on how to take Zimbabwe out of its current predicament .
It’s not surprising therefore, that Tsvangirai who won the March general elections is now weighing his options; whether to pull out of this week’s Zimambwe presidential run- off which is widely expected to be a travesty. Tsvangirai’s MDC has stated that 70 of its supporters have been murdered by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF rampaging militias.
Amnesty International says most of the victims appear to have been tortured to death by their abductors. Soldiers commanded by generals loyal to Mugabe are also going about threatening villagers with guns, instructing them to vote for Mugabe on June 27.
Much of what is taking place in Zimbabwe, a once upon a time food basket of Africa, is not new to Ugandans who have suffered under dictatorial regimes for decades.
The events in Zimbabwe though, seem to have led our own President Museveni to have a personal reflection and express a change of mind ( at least for now) when he told the media on his recent trip to the UK that his old friend should prepare to leave power once he loses the June 27 elections.
This is the same Museveni who like Mugabe had in the past vowed never to hand over power to the opposition even if they had won the presidential elections. And to put this whole question of presidential handover in perspective; should Ugandans trust that Museveni’s word alone will drive a tired senile Mugabe from power if he loses the vote? And should the country’s destiny be left to the swing moods of a leader? This cannot possibly be the best approach to good governance and empowerment of the ordinary people to choose their leaders in a free democratic environment.
As a country we need to encourage development of viable institutions around which politics can be organised. One of these institutions is the Electoral Commission whose independence must be guaranteed by our electoral laws and respected by the incumbent regime.
Sadly though, with the 2011 presidential elections just around the corner, there seem not to be any move by our parliament to clean up the electoral process by amending our laws to measure-up to the present challenges.
Already, the Supreme Court has pointed out numerous loopholes in our electoral laws which, if not corrected, can breed political turmoil in the future. For instance, parliament should amend our constitution and the attendant subsidiary laws to drastically reduce the powers of a president waiting to hand over power to a successor after elections.
Such a president should lose the power to unilaterally declare a state of emergency or suspend the constitution– which powers have been employed by military tyrants to rule by decree and reverse the gains of a growing democracy.
The out going president should also be barred from dissolving parliament and reshuffling the government . These and many other reforms are needed to establish stability in our electoral process. And time might not be on our side.
The writer is a journalist and lawyer