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  • Zim rules out new constitution before election
    Mail & Guardian (SA)
    January 28, 2008

    Harare - The Zimbabwe government on Monday slapped down opposition demands for a new constitution to be adopted before a March general election, saying it would only be put to a referendum after the polls. In an article headlined "Polls first, constitution later", Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the state-run Herald newspaper that "the state was not in a hurry to craft a new constitution ... in order to please one political grouping". "A constitution is a serious document that needs the participation of all and sundry and should, therefore, not be hurried because someone is demanding it as a prerequisite for national elections," Chinamasa was quoted as saying. Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) reacted furiously to Friday's announcement that joint parliamentary and presidential elections are to be staged on March 29. South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating between the MDC and veteran Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party to agree a framework for the elections after allegations that the last polls in 2002 were rigged. The MDC had been pushing Mbeki to persuade his Zimbabwean counterpart to postpone an election until after a new constitution was put in place - an idea for which Mugabe has shown little enthusiasm.

    But despite its anger at Mugabe for his pre-emptive setting of an election date, the opposition has so far held back from announcing a boycott. Once a formidable force posing the stiffest challenge to Mugabe, the MDC was rocked by factionalism with the main splinter led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai following a row over whether to contest senate polls in 2006. The MDC described the decision on Friday by Mugabe to call general elections for March 29 an "act of madness", but stopped short of calling for a boycott. "It's an act of madness and arrogance," MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said. Chamisa said the announcement was a slap in the face to regional efforts, led by Mbeki, to mediate between the MDC and Zanu PF party on the framework for the joint parliamentary and presidential polls. "Mugabe has slapped SADC's [Southern African Development Community] commitment and President Thabo Mbeki's efforts to try and amicably solve the crisis," said Chamisa. "Mugabe has jumped the gun. As for the MDC, I cannot pre-empt our position whether we will participate or not as the national executive meets within a week or so to make a decision." Mugabe announced on Friday that the troubled Southern African country will stage a general election on March 29 when he will seek a sixth term in office.

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