Zimbabwe's parliament is expected to begin debate next week on a constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to appoint an acting president, if the incumbent retires or dies. The bill was introduced by the government of President Robert Mugabe. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is likely to support the measure, which would expire at the next presidential election, due in March of next year. 

The proposed constitutional amendment was introduced as the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are engaged in talks about future elections. Analysts say there are indications the proposed amendment is part of efforts in those talks to move toward negotiations on a new constitution ahead of the next elections.
The closed-door talks are mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki. African diplomatic sources say the two sides have realized that, in order to have better election laws, and a better election climate, Zimbabwe needs a new constitution.

Those sources say, if the negotiators are able to make progress, then a new constitution is the goal of both sides and supported by the South African mediators. 

President Mugabe said in August that Zimbabwe's present constitution was fine for the next elections, with an amendment.

However, diplomatic sources close to the talks say negotiators have concluded that it would be too cumbersome to amend the present constitution, and a new one was needed to pave the way for a series of new laws, particularly those governing elections.

Veteran Zimbabwe political analyst Brian Raftopoulos said he believes the amendment coming to parliament next week is "linked to what is going on in the negotiations."

One of the major problems in connection with a new constitution, diplomatic sources say, is that there is little time left before elections, which are due in March. However, the present constitution would allow the polls to be delayed until June. 

South African President Mbeki said he wants to see free and fair elections in Zimbabwe next year.  All of the elections since 2000 have been disputed.