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

  • Disillusioned civic groups plot way forward
    Sebastian Nyamhangambiri, ZimOnline
    September 26, 2007

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

    HARARE - Zimbabwe civic society leaders will this week meet in Bulawayo to plot resistance to a government constitutional reform Bill that received backing from the opposition but which civic groups say is piecemeal and was drafted without input from all stakeholders.

    In a sign of increasingly hostile division between organised civic society and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, authoritative sources said the Bulawayo meeting will agree on a "programme of action" that will among other things include street protests against Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Number 18.

    Analysts have warned that the widening rift between the MDC and its main allies in civic society will weaken opposition to President Robert Mugabe, strengthening the veteran leader's grip on power months ahead of key presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

    "The feeling is that there was great betrayal by the MDC (in backing the government bill) so civic groups want to come up with a position," said a top civic activist, who did not want to be named.

    She added: "Street protests as well as petitioning governments in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region not to neglect the concerns of civic society in their attempts to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis are some of the strategies we are likely to adopt in Bulawayo."

    Lovemore Madhuku, who is chairman of the National Constitutional (NCA) political pressure group confirmed the Bulawayo meeting but refused to be drawn into details.

    "It would be proper to comment after the conference otherwise I would be accused of pre-emptying the purpose of the conference," said Madhuku.

    In addition to the NCA, other civic groups expected to attend the Bulawayo meeting include the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Christian Alliance, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Women's Coalition, Zimbabwe National Students Union and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

    Some of the civic groups boycotted a Monday meeting called by main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to explain why the MDC endorsed government constitutional reforms and have threatened to cut ties with the opposition party.

    The two secretaries-general of the divided MDC, Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube, were initially included among officials to address the Bulawayo civic conference but their names were struck off the list of speakers, as differences between the opposition party and its civic allies appear to be steadily turning to resentment of each other.

    Biti and Ncube were not immediately available for comment on the matter but an official of the Tsvangirai wing of the MDC downplayed the widening rift with civic society.

    "Divergent views are welcome, as long we still believe in taking Zimbabweans out of this crisis. We, in the MDC, will not be worried," said Nelson Chamisa, spokesman of the Tsvangirai-led MDC.

    The SADC last March tasked South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate in Zimbabwe's crisis.

    The MDC, which had initially pushed for an entirely new constitution that would guarantee basic freedoms and free elections, says it agreed to back the government's constitutional Bill in the spirit of the SADC-led dialogue and in the greater interests of resolving Zimbabwe's crisis.

    The government's constitutional Bill will see constituency boundaries changed, parliamentary elections brought forward by two years while Parliament - which Mugabe controls - will be empowered to elect a new president should the incumbent fail to serve a full term.

    Analysts see the clause empowering Parliament to elect a new president as an exit mechanism allowing Mugabe, 83, to quit active politics, handpick a successor and possibly rule from the sidelines.

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