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Conflicting reports over constitutional changes ahead of elections
Tererai Karimakwenda, SW Radio Africa
September 14, 2007

The issue of a new constitution ahead of the elections due next year has seen several conflicting media reports this week. A report in the Zimbabwe Independent claims that the Mbeki mediated talks between the MDC and ZANU-PF had produced a surprising concession by the MDC to participate in the elections without a new constitution. The report said both parties had agreed a new constitution was no longer a priority, because there was not enough time left before the elections, scheduled for March. But diplomatic sources insist that a new constitution is still squarely and firmly on the agenda, and discussions on this is;sue are still taking place.

Because the Zimbabwean negotiating teams have basically been gagged by the mediator President Thabo Mbeki, it is difficult to get information about any progress in the talks.

From the outset both factions of the opposition have insisted they would not take part without a new constitution. The Independent said they had agreed instead to make changes to Constitutional Amendment No 18, which government tabled in parliament Wednesday. ZANU-PF reportedly made "many significant concessions" as well, including an agreement to amend the Public Order and Security Act that has been used to ban opposition rallies.

Our sources said the MDC team of secretary generals Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti had actually succeeded in negotiating for changes to Constitutional Amendment 18 as it was tabled on Wednesday. They said a new revised version of it will be re-introduced in parliament next Tuesday. But if a new constitution is still being discussed, why would there be discussions over amending, an amendment?

Dr Lovemore Madhuku, chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly, told Newsreel he had heard an agreement was in place not to have a new constitution. He said he was very disturbed by the news because it would be a betrayal of the ordinary members of the MDC. He said: "There is an elite group in the MDC that purports to represent the ordinary members of the MDC, but any genuine consultation would reveal they do not agree with elections under the current circumstances."

Asked if they would vote he said: "Zimbabweans are desperate and I suspect they will vote just to protest against Mugabe. But they will go with a heavy heart."

Dr Madhuku said the issue of the constitution is also at the heart of why the country's economy is deteriorating. He said: "The basic weakness of our system in Zimbabwe is that there is no constitutional framework for making government accountable and remove it from office if it is incompetent." He added that this is why the NCA is supporting the 2-day strike action called for by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, which begins on the 19th September.

Observers have noted that as Mugabe does not adhere to the current constitution, there are no guarantees that a new one would make any difference.

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