OPINION | ED is happy to see the running mate clause dropped. He may not be the only one

A powerful VP? No thanks: Chiwenga at ED's inauguration, after leading the 2017 coup

By Sharon Mupfure

The running mate clause is one of the provisions being dropped under the controversial Constitutional amendment Bill. It has been one of the issues featuring mostly in the debates around the changes.

Some commentators would have you believe Nelson Chamisa and Emmerson Mnangagwa have different views on that particular clause. But my suspicion is that this is looking at things in black and white.

But, first, let’s get one thing straight, right away. We should not be chopping and changing the Constitution right now. It is not even ten years old.

In 2013, Zimbabweans voted for a new Constitution. It was, for the most part, a very progressive document. It won bipartisan support at the referendum. This consensus was the outcome of quite a long period of negotiation and consultation across the country, from villages to cities and so forth.  

This is the way a few of us naively hoped things would be under Emmerson Mnangagwa; negotiation and consensus. However, it has not been the case, and ZANU PF is using its two-thirds election majority, accepted by the opposition, to do as it wants.

Centre of debate

However, I cannot accept the commentary that paints this debate in black and white. Not all the clauses are the same. One clause, in particular, has been centred in the debate; the running mate clause.

Currently, only the President is elected. He then picks his own Vice Presidents, two of them. In 2023, every presidential candidate would have had to pick a running mate. Should the president die, resign, or be forced out of power, the running mate would automatically take over. Currently, the ruling party would have to sit down and elect a replacement, like we saw in 2017.

Some say the advantage is that the public knows who their next president is. It makes succession smoother, according to the likes of Douglas Mwonzora who support the running mate clause. That is, people vote for the Presidency as a “package”; a President and a VP who is good enough to be a President also.

But, basically, the running mate clause means that a presidential candidate would have to pick his or her successor from the start. 

Let us face it; whatever they or their supporters may say in public, Chamisa does not want this and more than Mnangagwa does. Chamisa may be – rightly in my view – opposed to the process and principle of this amendment, but it is a lie to say, as suggested by commentators, that the running mate clause is supported by “democrats”.

Paranoia is shared among political party leaders in Zimbabwe.

Unlikely consensus

I am willing to bet that, on the running mate clause, both Mnangagwa and Chamisa are happy to see it go.

First, Mnangagwa. He knows the problem of having a powerful deputy. He used to be one. Even his party, at its caucus just before that vote in Parliament, said the clause brought “two centres of power”. It was an admission by ZANU PF of its failures to deal with powerful VPs and succession in general, pardon the pun.

No President is secure knowing that his or her VP has every incentive to take him out of office. 

The VP benefits directly. There is no chance of the party deciding otherwise. Once a running mate is picked, that’s it. They cannot be fired willy-nilly as happened to Mnangagwa or Joice Mujuru. Spare a thought for poor old Kembo Mohadi.

In fact, those saying this “consolidates power in one man” are wrong in a way. The running mate clause gives one man the power to pick his successor. It takes that power away from his party, which currently decides who succeeds him.

Take your pick: Chamisa, flanked by two of this three VPs

As for Chamisa, who among his top leadership would he choose to be a running mate? Having so many VPs in the party tells you the story; it is not easy. Essentially, he would be anointing that person to be his successor. Who does he trust, among his three deputies; Tendai Biti, Welshman Ncube and Lynnette Karenyi Kore? Those who watch politics know the answer to this one.

What would happen, should Chamisa decide to pick someone from outside the VP circle? Worse, what would it mean, if he picked someone other than Biti, an influential person in the MDC?

None of our parties has been able to deal with influential deputies. From Joice Mujuru to Mnangagwa himself, and then to the mess that Morgan Tsvangirai left, in his valiant but ultimately destructive appointment of three VPs.

Selfishness and self-preservation rule our political leaders.

Mnangagwa and Chamisa may be polar opposites on many things. It is obvious they disagree on the principle of mutilating the Constitution this way. But secretly, you can be sure that they surely agree that the running mate clause would have complicated things for both of them.