Zimbabwe's justice minister Patrick Chinamasa has taken the first legal step to change Zimbabwe's constitution for the 18th time since independence in 1980. The new amendment that was published in the Government Gazette last week will expand the size of the parliament and senate, and allow presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA from southern Africa.
President Robert Mugabe postponed the first proposed meeting between his ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change that had been arranged by the South African government.
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki was appointed by the Southern African Development Community to mediate, so that next year's Zimbabwe national elections can take place without disputes about electoral rules or processes.
But Zimbabwe justice minister Patrick Chinamasa has published a proposed constitutional amendment for changes to electoral laws. Zimbabwe's state-controlled Herald newspaper said Saturday parliament is expected to begin debating the proposed amendment next month.
Independent political commentators say the proposal undermines President Mbeki's efforts to mediate between ZANU-PF and the MDC.
Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the Herald that the propsed constitutional amendment had nothing to do with the mediation.
The amendment expands parliament from 150 members to 210, but slightly reduces the number of non-elected legislators.
The amendment also shortens the six-year term of the next elected president by a year. Elections for the legislature, senate, and the president will be held simultaneously when President Robert Mugabe's term ends next March, when he will be 83 years old.
The changes amend the rules for electing a new president should the post become vacant during the presidential term. At present, if President Mugabe dies presidential elections have to be held in 90 days. In the future, if the presidential post becomes vacant, for whatever reason, the legislature, not the people, will appoint the president.
The new constitutional amendment would also establish a human-rights commission that opposition groups say will be packed by ruling-party loyalists and will provide cover for the Mugabe administration's ongoing human-rights violations.
Opposition groups have been pushing for a complete overhaul of the constitution, including reform of all electoral laws, before next year's polls.
But there are only six months left before the election machinery gets into place for the next national polls, too short a time, many critics say, to change Zimbabwe's political climate and laws to allow free and fair elections.