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Zimbabwe Politicians Amend Constitution to Form Unity Government

After months of negotiations Zimbabwe's legislators have passed unanimously by all members present a constitutional amendment that will enable the formation of a government of national unity between Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Arthur Mutambara's small MDC faction. There was much jubilation among members from all parties and staff at parliament.

The 19th constitutional amendment enables the appointment of a prime minister, in this case Morgan Tsvangirai, two deputy prime ministers and a cabinet, thus paving the way for Mr. Tsvangirai and other senior opposition officials to be sworn in as members of the government of national unity.

Chief MDC negotiator Tendai Biti told parliament the road traveled to this moment has been very difficult and reaching it was a miracle. He said his party goes into government knowing there must be commitment and trust.

Mr. Mugabe's chief negotiator, Patrick Chinamasa, was even more blunt about the difficulties saying the journey had been long, frustrating, and quarrelsome characterized by animosity and name-calling. But he added the parties have reached an important milestone.

Before it can be implemented, the 19th Amendment must be signed by President Robert Mugabe. Even so it seems likely that the deadline imposed on the Zimbabwean parties to have the unity government in place by mid-February by the Southern Africa Development Community will be met.

Early Thursday there was some concern that the necessary number of legislators would be in parliament. Party whips were looking for out-of-town members to get them back to parliament for the historic vote. Several left for their home constituencies late Wednesday. After MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa issued a statement, the session to debate the amendment was postponed.

An out-of-town legislator who remained in Harare told VOA the MP's all earn only the equivalent of one US dollar and their fuel allocation from the government has been cut off, making the job of the whips to get legislators back to the house more difficult.

The debate was preceded by a further round of talks in South Africa Wednesday to discuss a planned security council that will oversee the security ministry which has been allocated to ZANU-PF. A source close to the talks said there were compromises on both sides and each page was signed off by the six negotiators, two from each party.

SADC leaders seem determined to make sure the parties stick to the deadlines they imposed. A source told VOA that South African president Kgalema Motlanthe telephoned Mr. Mugabe who was at the African Union summit in Ethiopia to seek a commitment that ZANU-PF negotiators would be in South Africa Wednesday to negotiate new security legislation.

SADC talk facilitators tell VOA that it cleared the way for the passage of the amendment.

There are still outstanding issues, which SADC said must be tackled after a unity government is sworn into power. These include the release of about 30 detainees, and the re-allocation of provincial governors to more closely reflect the outcome of the March 2008 general election.

Several MDC legislators in Harare Thursday were excited about the upcoming amendment saying a unity government represented the beginning of the end of Mr. Mugabe's 29-year rule.