The legislative branch of government is the branch which makes laws for the country. A legislature embodies the idea that people are the source of political power in the State and should control the law-making process. It is an institution of representative democracy under which the people elect representatives to act for them, as opposed to direct democracy under which the people enact legislation themselves through referendums or mass assemblies.
In this country the legislative branch is constituted by Parliament, which is divided into two separate chambers or houses, namely the Senate and the House of Assembly. Zimbabwe therefore has a “bicameral” or two-chamber legislature. This was not always the case. From 1923 until 1969 this country had a single-chamber (or “unicameral”) legislature. Then in 1970 a Senate was established and legislative power was divided, as now, between the Senate and the House of Assembly. Zimbabwe continued to have a bicameral legislature until 1990, when the Senate was abolished and a single-chamber Parliament was created. In 2005 the Senate was re-established and our legislature has remained bicameral.
Issues to be Considered
Now that Zimbabwe stands poised to draft a new constitution, the structure and functions of the legislature, and its relationship with other branches of government, must be considered afresh. This paper looks at issues facing the constitution-makers under the following headings:
1. Should the legislature be unicameral or bicameral (i.e. should it consist of one chamber or two)?
2. If there are to be two chambers, what should their relationship be to each other?
3. As to the membership of the legislature:
· Should all the members be elected?
· Should members of Executive (i.e. Ministers) be allowed to sit and vote in the legislature?
· If a member leaves the party to which he or she belonged at the time of his or her election, should that party have the right to have the member’s seat declared vacant or can she or he “floor-cross”, (i.e. join another party) or stay on as an independent. Or if a member who won a seat as an independent joins a party, can he or she remain an MP and represent that party, or should there be a by-election so that the constituency can decide.
· What privileges should members have?
4. As to legislation:
· Should legislation passed by the legislature require the assent of the Head of State?
· Should the procedure for passing legislation be laid down in the Constitution or left to be worked out by the legislature in its standing orders?
5. What powers should the legislature have over national finance?
6. Should the Head of State have the power to dissolve or adjourn the legislature and to fix the dates of its sessions?