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Zimbabwe Opposition Debates Amendment in Parliament


Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, says as a gesture of goodwill it has decided not to fight a proposed 18th amendment to Zimbabwe's constitution and allow it to come up for a vote. Peta Thornycroft reports the gesture follows five months of South African mediated negotiations between the MDC and ruling Zanu-PF may pave the way for fairer presidential and legislative elections in March.

The divided Movement for Democratic Change, which split in half two years ago, has taken part in secret negotiations with the ruling ZANU-PF, mostly in Harare.

The results of the negotiations, expected to be revealed in parliament, will likely be an amendment to the constitution.

At present President Robert Mugabe serves a term of six years - but if this bill is passed, the presidential term would run concurrently with the tenure of parliament for five years.

In addition, the measure would allow parliament to choose an acting president should Mr. Mugabe die or retire before his present term of office expires in March.

The amendment also proposes an expansion of the number of elected legislators from 120 to 210.

The International Crisis Group said Tuesday that increasing the number of seats in the legislature is designed to favor ZANU-PF as the demographics do not bear out a need to increase the size of parliament.

Some political analysts believe that this amendment could start full scale negotiations towards a new constitution.

Chris Maroleng, an analyst with the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, says it would be difficult for a new constitution to change the political climate before March elections.

"Given the MDC is lacking in capacity, and is weakened from the party they were when it was formed in 1999, it is clear they are entering into these negotiations from a position of weakness compared to their counterparts in ZANU-PF, so there is not much pressure internally on Robert Mugabe," he said.

Nevertheless, Maroleng says not everything is in Mr. Mugabe's favor. The president, who will turn 84 before the election, said in August he did not want a new constitution before the synchronized elections. But pressures are mounting.

"He may have to consider this, however, due to the economic situation which is becoming so hard and is felt by the majority of Zimbabweans, including supporters of ZANU-PF," he said. "This is increasingly making individuals in ZANU-PF view Mugabe as a liability, and make Mugabe consider a negotiated exit from power, and negotiate to resolving this question surrounding ZANU-PF's lack of political legitimacy and questions around Mugabe's own political legitimacy."

No one can yet be certain that an amendment will lead to negotiations for a new constitution.

If it does, opposition legislators say the new constitution would have to include wide-scale electoral reform, including a fully independent electoral authority. Currently the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is appointed by President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.