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Cabinet endorses Zimbabwe constitutional change
Patricia Mpofu, ZimOnline
June 08, 2007

http://www.zimonline.co.za/Article.aspx?ArticleId=1493

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe's Cabinet ealier this week endorsed a draft amendment to the country's Constitution, paving the way for the proposed Bill to be tabled in Parliament.

The proposed 18th amendment to a much criticized Constitution bequeathed to Zimbabwe by former colonial power Britain seeks to harmonise elections for president and Parliament next year, in a plan Mugabe says is meant to save on administrative costs but which critics say is just a ploy by the President to cling to power.

The amendment shall also provide for the creation of a statutory human rights commission to monitor human rights in the crisis-hit southern African country.

"We have agreed on it. We are pushing it, it is just a matter of time before it comes to Parliament," said Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, Minister of Information Minister and chief government spokesman.

Ndlovu refused to be drawn further on the matter because Cabinet discussions and resolutions are confidential.

But sources told ZimOnline there was fierce debate over the amendment forcing the Cabinet meeting that started in the morning on Tuesday to drag on until about nine o'clock in the evening.

According to the sources although there was in the end general agreement to press ahead with the constitutional amendment, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was asked to take back the draft amendment for fine tuning before it could be brought to Parliament.

The constitutional Bill is expected to be tabled in the House in August where the government will use its absolute control of both chambers of Parliament to ensure it sails through without hitches or delays.

Zimbabwe presently elects a new Parliament after every five years and president after six years, a situation the government has argued is too costly and could be saved by terminating the life of the present Parliament that was due to expire in 2010 and bring forward parliamentary elections so they are held jointly with elections for president in 2008.

Mugabe, whose term ends in 2008, had initially proposed that elections be held in 2010, which would have given him two more years in office without having to face the electorate. The plan was however rejected by his own ruling ZANU PF party.

The 83-year old President in power since Zimbabwe's 1980 independence from Britain has said he will stand for another five-year term next year.

Moves by Mugabe to amend the Constitution appear to render irrelevant efforts by South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate in Zimbabwe's crisis.

Mbeki was last March asked by Southern African Development Community heads of state and government to lead efforts to resolve Zimbabwe's eight-year political and economic crisis by facilitating dialogue between Mugabe's government and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.

The dialogue -- if it takes off - is expected to focus chiefly on constitutional reforms to harmonise elections, level the playing field and ensure free and fair polls.

The MDC has particularly opposed plans by the government to want use its parliamentary majority to make unilateral changes to the Constitution.

Meanwhile South African deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad has said it was "vital" to see urgency from all sides in Zimbabwe to get talks between the parties started.

Aziz would not confirm or deny reports of meetings scheduled to be held in Pretoria between ZANU PF and the MDC.

"Until there is a decision to officially indicate what meetings are planned and what meeting have already taken place I would not be able to comment on any reports that have already appeared," Pahad said on Thursday.

Zimbabwe has since 1999 been grappling with an agonising political and economic meltdown, critics blame on repression and mismanagement by Mugabe, a charge the veteran leader denies.

The crisis has seen inflation shooting to more than 3 700 percent while the southern African country is short of food, essential medicines, fuel, electricity, hard cash and just about every basic survival commodity. --ZimOnline

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