Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has submitted a proposed a new constitution to parliament Wednesday.  The proposed constitution comes as President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party is busy amending the present constitution in a way that critics say will further curtail fundamental freedoms in Zimbabwe.

Ruling ZANU-PF legislators were taken by surprise Wednesday when the opposition MDC presented a new and very different constitution to parliament for consideration.

The opposition party says the new constitution could be the basis for a new beginning for Zimbabwe.

MDC spokesman Tendai Biti said the document presented to parliament was a combination of the best of two draft constitutions, one prepared by ZANU-PF in 2000 and rejected in a referendum, and the second written by civil rights groups after years of countrywide consultations with the people.

He said the suggested constitution was similar to the most progressive in the region, such those in force in South Africa and Namibia.

The proposed MDC constitution would abolish the executive presidency and instead have a prime minister elected by parliament with limited powers, who would only be allowed to serve two terms.

Under the present constitution, President Mugabe can, and often does, make laws by decree and he has been in power for more than 25 years.

Mr. Biti said the MDC constitution had a wide bill of rights and would create oversight bodies such as a human rights commission and another fully independent body to run elections.

All legislators would have to be elected. At present Mr. Mugabe appoints 30 legislators in addition to 120 elected to parliament.

Mr. Biti acknowledged the opposition-backed document presented to parliament has no chance of being adopted now, as the MDC is the minority party.  He said if ZANU-PF were serious about ending the political and economic crisis it would use this document as a starting point.

Next week, Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF intends to finalize procedures to fast track changes to the present constitution.  Those changes would make it possible for the government to assume ownership of farmland more quickly, by barring the owner's right to appeal the takover in court and to confiscate passports from citizens who the government says pose a threat to national security.

Critics say the ruling party is abusing all notions of democracy with its rush to make constitutional changes.  The government says the changes are needed and will help complete the Mugabe government's land reform program.