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Opposition draws battle lines as Zim Parliament convenes
Godfrey Marawanyika, Mail & Guardian (SA)
August 21, 2007

Zimbabwe's opposition and ruling party squared up in Parliament Tuesday at the start of a session that is set to usher in controversial changes to the Constitution ahead of next year's elections.

President Robert Mugabe is expected to get overwhelming approval for his plans to synchronise the timing of the parliamentary and presidential polls as well as force through boundary changes the opposition say will unfairly increase his chances of winning a seventh term in office.

Although a planned debate on the constitutional amendments was put off until a later date, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) signalled its intention to harry Mugabe at every turn by demanding an immediate discussion on the economic crisis in the former British colony.

MDC lawmaker Tapiwa Mashakada moved a motion for an urgent debate on "the economic meltdown and atrophy which has seized the Zimbabwean economy since the year 2000" when Mugabe embarked on a programme of seizing white-owned farms.

"The MDC is alarmed by the rate of hyper inflation and the adverse impact this has had on the life of the ordinary people, workers and business in Zimbabwe," he added.

Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, is currently facing the biggest crisis in his presidency, with the inflation rate above 4 500% and more than 80% of people unemployed.

A directive for retailers to slash their prices, launched two months ago, was designed to ensure that cash-strapped consumers could once again afford household goods.

But the controversial Operation Dzikiza (Operation Reduced Prices) appears to have backfired with an initial rush on stores being followed by widespread shortages, with manufacturers no longer able to meet their production costs.

In a speech last month which marked the formal opening of the National Assembly, Mugabe said that "harmonising elections will reduce costs and enable government to focus more on developmental issues".

The constitutional changes, which are certain to be nodded through given the ruling Zanu-PF's commanding majority, will see the number of MPs increased from 150 to 210 as well as ensure presidential and parliamentary elections both take place around March next year.

The MDC has been particularly incensed by the boundary changes which will see the proportion of MPs in rural areas -- Mugabe's traditional stronghold -- increase markedly at the expense of urban areas, where the opposition usually prevails.

Joram Gumbo, Zanu-PF's chief whip, told Agence France-Presse that the government was determined to push through the changes despite the MDC's objections.

"They are just are a barking dog and the elephant, us in power, will continue to move."

Gumbo also confirmed that a controversial Bill which seeks to ensure that 51% of shareholding of all public listed firms is held by black Zimbabweans would be put before MPs this session.

"This session needs seriousness from both parties as we will seek to empower our people through the indigenisation Bill," he said.

Debate on Tuesday was dominated by speeches from Zanu-PF members in praise of Mugabe but the speaker adjourned proceedings after little more than an hour until Thursday as a large number of MPs from both sides were absent. -- Sapa-AFP

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