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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Constitutional Amendment 18 of 2007 - Index of articles, opinion and anaylsis

  • Signs of movement
    Africa Confidential
    Vol 48 Number 19
    September 21, 2007

    Visit the special index of articles, analysis and opinion on Constitutional Amendment 18

    This week's deal in parliament between the government and the opposition parties over constitutional changes shows the desperation on all sides, after five months of stagnation in the South African-mediated talks on political reform. It also opens up the prospect of a more coordinated strategy among all those groups opposed to President Robert Mugabe's attempts to stand for another term as executive president in elections scheduled for next March.

    The agreement follows talks between South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and the leaders of the two rival factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, on 15 September. Both Tsvangirai and Mutambara, who last met Mbeki in March, emerged encouraged. Until then South Africa's Safety and Security Minister Sydney Mufamadi was mediating the talks between Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti for the MDC factions and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and former Intelligence Chief Nicholas Goche for the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

    Mbeki, we hear, told Tsvangirai and Mutambara that ZANU-PF was prepared to amend radically the Public Order and Security Act (POSA, which dates back to the Ian Smith regime), as well as to work with the MDC to draw up a new electoral law, which would allow parliament instead of the president to nominate members to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). The POSA amendment would permit all parties to hold public rallies without prior notification to the police and to canvass support without obstruction from the security forces.

    The agreed changes will increase the number of MPs in the Assembly, from 150 to 210 seats, and in the Senate, from 60 to 93 seats. The MPs in the Assembly will all be elected, while the president's power to appoint MPs will be abolished. The president will retain power to appoint provincial governors and influence over the appointment of chiefs to the Senate, but the Assembly will have the power to overrule the Senate.

    The new rules will also abolish the Delimitation Commission. It has redrawn constituency boundaries to the huge advantage of ZANU-PF, which wants more constituencies in its rural heartlands and fewer in the towns that are the MDC's strongholds. The work of the Delimitation Commission will be taken over by the ZEC.

    The changes will also allow parliament to choose the next president, should the incumbent die or be incapacitated. Mugabe's supporters offered this provision as proof that their man, 85 next year, intends to win a final term and then retire gracefully. Few believe this, so it makes little difference to the political calculus.

    MDC activists have no illusions about the lack of change on the ground, where ZANU-PF has recruited some 10,000 youths for its highly trained and relatively well paid 'green bombers' unit to deliver the votes and deal (usually violently) with opposition supporters.

    Yet committed reformers such as Trevor Ncube urge activists to seize the day. Ncube, publisher of The Independent and Standard in Harare and the Mail & Guardian in South Africa, argues that opposition groups should form a coalition to exploit growing divisions in ZANU-PF over the succession. The ZANU-PF politburo's decision to call a special congress in December is significant, Ncube said this week at London's International Institute of Security Studies.

    The ZANU-PF faction led by General Solomon Mujuru is to make a strong bid to get Mugabe to stand down or at least to accept the role of titular President, while the bulk of his powers are transferred to an executive prime minister. Ranged against Mujuru is the rejuvenated alliance between Mugabe and former Security Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, thrown together partly by a mutual fear of prosecution for massacres in the 1980s.

    Ncube recommended that Western states both back the South African mediation efforts and reengage with the Mugabe government. Britain and the European Union are backing Mbeki, but reengagement with Mugabe still divides the Europeans. Portugal is to invite Mugabe to the European Union-African Union summit in Lisbon in December. Britain's new Prime Minister Gordon Brown is sticking to his predecessor's line: if Mugabe is invited, Brown will not attend the summit.

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