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

  • Zim opposition caught between a rock and hard place
    Justin Muponda, ZimOnline
    September 24, 2007

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

    HARARE - Zimbabwe's main opposition party last week carved out concessions from President Robert Mugabe in an effort to ensure free and fair elections in 2008 but could have trapped itself between a rock and a hard place in the process while the veteran leader solidifies his grip on power, analysts said. 

    The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) agreed to the ruling ZANU-PF party's constitutional amendments it had initially vowed to fight, after the bill was watered down to clip Mugabe's powers to appoint members of the lower house of parliament and limit presidential appointees in the upper senate to five. 

    The bill also merged presidential, parliamentary and council elections, a key opposition demand, and will see parliament sitting as an electoral college to elect a president if an incumbent failed to serve a full term. 

    There is growing speculation that Mugabe could use that provision to resolve the contentious succession puzzle in ZANU-PF by stepping down in future and anoint a loyalist who would be endorsed by parliament, long dominated by the ruling party. 

    But so far, there is no sign the veteran leader will leave office despite a collapsing economy and growing calls locally and abroad for him to quit.  Instead, Mugabe, who at 83 years looks fit for his age, is consolidating power and seeking re-election for a five-year term in elections scheduled for 2008. 

    "This looks like capitulation by any word. The so-called concessions Mugabe has agreed to are clearly insignificant," John Makumbe, senior political lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe said. 

    "In trying to get something out of these talks, the MDC has put itself into a tight corner on one hand and on the other it would seem Mugabe is actually consolidating power with the help of the MDC," Makumbe said. 

    But the MDC says it is pursuing a parallel political process and has not abandoned its demand for a new constitution and the repealing of harsh press and security laws it says have hamstrung its capacity to organise politically. 

    A Southern African Development Community initiative requiring ZANU-PF and the MDC to negotiate a political settlement to end Zimbabwe's crisis has seen the two parties meeting 20 times in Pretoria and Harare. 

    The two have agreed to discuss parameters for a new constitution, review of controversial media and security legislation and the issue of sanctions, which ZANU-PF blames for the economic crisis. 

    Critics say while Mugabe appeared to play ball for now, there are doubts the veteran leader would walk all the way to implement these key demands as this would mean negotiating himself out of power. 

    Analysts also say even if Mugabe and ZANU PF were to agree to the MDC demands for a new constitution and to scrap restrictive media and security laws, these were most likely to be implemented after the 2008 elections which the former guerrilla leader looks set to win under the prevailing political climate. Some sources in ZANU-PF say this could be Mugabe's last election, given his old age. 

    The issue of political violence, gerrymandering and use of state machinery by ZANU-PF in elections are some key issues that remain unresolved ahead of the elections but critics say the opposition's acquiescence could make it difficult to pull out of future elections on the basis of an uneven political field. 

    In addition, there is already a wide split between the MDC and its allies in the civic society movement over the latest constitutional amendment. 

    The National Constitutional Assembly - which is campaigning for a new constitution and a strong MDC ally - called the agreement on the constitutional bill a "treacherous act" while an official in the civic movement, likened it to "kissing a hungry hyena". 

    "I can understand the feeling among our allies but this is not an end but the beginning of a long process initiated by SADC. We are going into this with our eyes wide open and fully cognisant of the political risks that lie ahead," an MDC official said. 

    Mugabe has managed to hang on to power since 2000 when the MDC posed the most potent threat to sweep him from power. 

    But today the MDC is severely weakened by personality clashes and infighting over strategy to tackle Mugabe and a vicious government campaign on its structures. 

    Analysts said the opposition movement was headed for further split after angry allies slammed the MDC for acquiescing to ZANU-PF, bad news for supporters who are growing weary over a deepening recession that has left Zimbabwe burdened with the world's highest inflation rate of over 6 600 percent, shortages of food, foreign currency and fuel and surging unemployment. 

    At the same time international pressure, which at best has been sporadic, has failed to move Mugabe whose assertion that Western sanctions are responsible for the crisis resonate with many supporters at home and Africans who still hail Mugabe as a liberation hero fighting white hegemony. 

    The veteran leader has outwitted rivals both in ZANU-PF and the MDC. 

    "They have been outthought in terms of strategy and vision," Eldred Masunungure, a leading political commentator said. 

    "It has again showed in these talks because Mugabe has not lost much by agreeing to the constitutional changes. If anything it is naïve for the MDC to think they can make a deal with Mugabe," he added. 

    The opposition, clearly looking out of sorts and depth on how to confront Mugabe, had little room to manoeuvre and would still have been unable to block the passing of the bill given ZANU-PF's parliamentary majority, analysts said. 

    MDC allies are also weakening, showed by a failed job boycott called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions last week to protest a government wage freeze and the deteriorating economy. 

    Civic group organisations have resorted to condemning Mugabe through the media or at best press conferences held in Western capitals, far away from where the political and economic crisis is unfolding. 

    Yet, there could still be hope for the opposition. Analysts say an organised MDC could pose a strong challenge to Mugabe at the polls, taking advantage of the discontent over the economic meltdown. 

    "I think this (economy) is one area where the government has no answers and obviously it's a window for the opposition to exploit. It could be an ace in the sleeve depending with how it is used," Masunungure said.

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