By Own Correspondent
HARARE (NewsDay) – Opposition MDC-T senators have accused their party leader Douglas Mwonzora of whipping them to vote for the passage of the controversial Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 2 while criticizing it in public to manage public perception.
The senators, some of whom boycotted yesterday’s Committee Stage debate on the Bill, said they were ordered to shred the Bill during debate and secretly vote for it.
Mwonzora has been labelled a “sell-out” and Zanu PF appendage after he publicly supported Zanu PF’s move to consolidate President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s grip on power through a series of constitutional amendments.
Last week, MDC-T legislators in the Lower House joined forces with their Zanu PF counterparts and voted for the passage of the Bill, before his senators on Tuesday sprang a surprise and poked holes on the proposed amendments, as ordered by their party chief whip Tichinani Mavetera.
“Opposing of the Bill is just a publicity stunt,” an MDC-T senator, who requested anonymity, said yesterday.
“The strategy is that senators will oppose the Bill publicly, but will then vote with Zanu PF on the pretext that they were supporting amendment on issues to do with women representation and youth in Parliament.”
The senator added: “While other legislators can vote with their conscience, three have been ordered to vote for the Bill to help Zanu PF achieve the two-thirds majority required to pass it.”
MDC-T sources said Mavetera convened a caucus meeting at Parliament Building on Tuesday, where the opposition senators were ordered to publicly oppose the contentious amendments to the Bill to manage public perception of the party.
The party then identified three senators who would vote in favour of the Bill to allow it to sail through.
The party came under criticism last week after its legislators voted in favour of the amendments viewed by stakeholders as a reversal of the gains made in 2013 when the country adopted the new Constitution.
Yesterday, the Bill passed the Senate Committee Stage without any amendments.
The Senate had to vote after reaching a deadlock in adopting clause 13(4) which deals with the retirement age of judges.
The clause was endorsed after 45 voted in support while 19 were against.
The Bill seeks to give President Emmerson Mnangagwa the power to extend judges’ tenure of office beyond retirement age of 70.
Mavetera yesterday denied reports that he whipped MDC-T senators to publicly oppose the Bill and later vote for its passage.
“I can confirm that the party’s position on voting for the Bill is that they should vote for the issues with national interest,” he said.
“Party members will, however, vote guided by their personal conscience. Party spokesperson Witness Dube can respond to further questions.”
Mwonzora’s spokesperson Lloyd Damba denied that the party had whipped its senators to vote for the Bill, blaming their rivals in the MDC Alliance of spreading the falsehoods.
“There was no caucus meeting that was held,” Damba said.
“The president (Mwonzora) had been at the office from 10am up to 3pm when he attended the Senate meeting. I have evidence to prove that.
“Even if we might not want the Bill to pass, we cannot stop Zanu PF because they have the majority in both the Senate and the National Assembly.”
Last week, Mwonzora defended his legislators, arguing that most of the amendments they voted for were in the public interest.
Contributing to the Second Reading of the Bill in Parliament on Wednesday, Mwonzora opposed the provision on the running mate, saying it promoted the appointment of incompetent vice-presidents, but supported the amendments on devolution.
“We have started a new philosophy that the youths are not leaders of tomorrow, they are leaders of today and introducing them into the Legislature is a right step in bringing that leadership. Of course, we have debated devolution, time without number and this is a very old story. We support devolution.”
He said the running mate clause was aimed at stopping presidents from appointing useless deputies.
Yesterday in the Senate while debating the same Bill, Mwonzora opposed clause 13 of the Bill, which gives Mnangagwa powers to handpick the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and the Judge President.
He said the Bill should be referred back to the National Assembly for further debate.