Zimbabwe ‘unity’

Update: Robert Elgie has analyzed (and linked to) the text of the amendment referred to below, and concluded “Neither the Cabinet nor the Council of Ministers is responsible to the legislature. So, constitutionally, Zimbabwe remains a presidential system.

Now that the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangarai (Movement for Democratic Change) has been sworn in to the newly created post of prime minister, alongside the president, Robert Mugabe (Zanu-PF), a key question is what the constitutional status of the PM is.

The Zimbabwean
has some information on the agreements reached in January, (citing an MDC source):

The parties shall endeavour to cause Parliament to pass the Constitutional Amendment 19 by 5 February 2009.
The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Ministers shall be sworn in by 11 February 2009:
The Ministers and Deputy Ministers shall be sworn in on 13 February 2009, which will conclude the process of the formation of the inclusive government.
The Joint-Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC), provided for in the Global Political Agreement, shall be activated immediately. The first meeting of JOMIC shall be convened by the facilitator on 30 January 2009 and shall, among other things, elect the chairpersons;
The allocation of ministerial portfolios endorsed by the SADC Extraordinary Summit held on 9 November 2008 shall be reviewed six (6) months after the inauguration of the inclusive government.

There is much more, but the really crucial constitutional question is what is in the detailed provisions of Amendment 19 (which was actually not passed till after the PM was sworn in). Does it give the parliamentary majority (held by the opposition to Mugabe) the exclusive authority to remove the prime minister and cabinet? Or is the prime minister subject also to the “confidence” of the president? If the answer is the former, the system is premier-presidential. If the latter, president-parliamentary. This is about more than nomenclature; it is about whether the president could unilaterally dismiss the the prime minister.

On these points, the provisions are unclear to me. However, one noteworthy clause of the amendment reportedly

makes it clear that when a person (usually the President) must act “in consultation with” another (usually the Prime Minister) it means with the agreement of the person to be consulted.


The Council of Ministers is meant to ensure the Prime Minister controls government policy work.

(Source for these last two quotes is a different article in The Zimbabwean.)

But if there is no provision for parliamentary confidence, it is not semi-presidential, and if there is no provision for exclusive parliamentary confidence, the president remains in the constitutional driver’s seat.

2 thoughts on “Zimbabwe ‘unity’

  1. The Council of Ministers is a new institution created by the deal. It includes the PM (as the chair) and all ministers, but excludes the President. The Cabinet is the same but includes the President (as chair), the Vice-Presidents, the PM (as deputy chair) and ministers. The constitutional amendment implies the Vice-Presidents are excluded from the Council of Ministers .

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