Zimbabwe has for the past five years been governed by a coalition government made up of three political parties – the Zimbabwe African Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC and MDC-T.
This arrangement followed a disputed presidential election run-off in June, 2008, which was marred by political violence targeted at MDC supporters. The Global Political Agreement (GPA), which gave birth to the coalition, created the post of Prime Minister through amendments to the Constitution.
The Prime Minister shares executive power with the President in this coalition arrangement, though the President has more powers. Executive policy decisions are made by leaders of the three political parties, referred to as “principals”. The enactment of the new Constitution on May 22 will alter the political system and governance structures once it fully comes into force after the 2013 general election.
A new Constitution became law on May 22, 2013. Spearheaded by a Parliamentary Select Committee, it took four years to draft and replaces the 1979 Lancaster House Constitution which had been amended 19 times.
Some of the key improvements in the new Constitution include a comprehensive bill of rights; fixed term of office for the President, security chiefs and other senior officials in the public service; removal of presidential power to veto legislation; devolution of some powers to provinces; and establishment of several independent commissions to promote and protect the rights of citizens.
System of Government
Zimbabwe has a hybrid of presidential and parliamentary systems of government.
The President is chosen by a separate election, held concurrently with parliamentary and local government elections, as in a presidential system. The President appoints Members of Parliament to the Cabinet, as in a parliamentary system. Important policy decisions are often made at political party caucus. Legislation is mostly initiated by Cabinet, with amendments by the Legislature limited. While MPs can initiate legislation, they are prohibited from introducing draft legislation that affects Government spending or taxation.
Because the Constitution and political circumstances tend to emphasise the powers of the President, Zimbabwe can also be described as a semi-presidential system.
The elected government appoints senior officials of the public service, including the security sector. Lower level appointments are made through the Civil Service Commission, a non-independent body since commissioners hold office at the pleasure of the President.
Political power is split between three branches – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.
The President, elected by popular majority vote to a maximum of two five-year terms, is the Head of State and Government, and is Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces. The President selects and chairs Cabinet, an executive body of government ministers. There are two Vice Presidents elected jointly with the President.
Although the new Constitution tries to dilute presidential powers, the President still has significant power to make appointments to the following bodies: public service; security services; members of independent and non-independent commissions; and the Judiciary.
The President can declare war and make peace without first seeking approval from Parliament. A two-thirds majority is needed in Parliament to revoke these declarations.
The Executive’s primary function is to formulate and implement public policy, and to enforce laws formulated by the legislative branch.
Ministers and deputy ministers are appointed by the President from Parliament. The new Constitution allows up to five to be appointed from outside Parliament, but these have no vote in the Legislature.
Parliament, which is comprised of the Senate and the National Assembly, can pass a vote of no confidence in the Government by a joint resolution passed by at least two-thirds of the total membership.
The President and Parliament make up the Legislative Branch. This means the President also makes law. Draft legislation passed by Parliament can only become law once it has been signed by the President.
Parliament is comprised of the National Assembly and the Senate. The new Constitution requires the National Assembly to have 210 members elected by secret ballot. There are an additional 60 women members for the first two years after the new Constitution comes into effect.
The National Assembly is headed by the Speaker, who is the Head of Parliament.
The new Constitution has a provision for 80 senators. Six are elected from each of the country’s 10 provinces through a party list system of proportional representation in accordance with total votes cast during election for members of the National Assembly. A further 18 are elected from among chiefs, while two represent persons with disabilities.
The Senate is headed by the President of the Senate, who is the Deputy Head of Parliament.
While in the past the President could dissolve Parliament at any time, this power is now limited by the Constitution.
The primary function of Parliament is to make laws by passing draft legislation that is then signed into law by the President. In the past, the President had the final say. Now, with the passing of the new Constitution, if there is disagreement between President and Parliament, the Constitutional Court is the final arbiter. Overseeing the work of ministries and government departments and representing the interests of the public are the other core functions of Parliament.
Under the new Constitution, the Judiciary comprises the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Labour Court, the Administrative Court, the magistrates courts, the customary law courts, and any other courts that can be established by law.
The Chief Justice is the Head of the Judiciary. Judges are appointed by the President in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission, which is chaired by the Chief Justice.
The Zimbabwe legal system is a mixture of English common law, Dutch-Roman civil law and customary law of the indigenous Zimbabwean people. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. All other laws must be consistent with the Constitution.
Zimbabwe has eight provinces, and two cities, Harare and Bulawayo, with provincial status. Each has a Governor appointed by the President. The provinces are divided into 63 districts. The eight provinces are governed by provincial councils, with Harare and Bulawayo governed by metropolitan councils. There are also urban and rural local authorities.
Current Office Holders (and party affiliation):
President: Robert Mugabe (ZANU-PF)
First Vice President: Joice Mujuru (ZANU-PF)
Second Vice President: Vacant following the death of John Landa Nkomo
Prime Minister: Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T)
Deputy Prime Minister: Thokozani Khupe (MDC-T)
Deputy Prime Minister: Arthur Mutambara (MDC-T)
Chief Justice: Godfrey Chidyausiku
New Constitution of Zimbabwe