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Mugabe plans bill to boost re-election
The Zimbabwean
January 11, 2008

View article on The Zimbabwean website

The Zimbabwean government is expected to push through Parliament next week a controversial bill which critics say is aimed at boosting President Robert Mugabe's re-election bid in March.

Parliament reconvenes on Tuesday after a three-week break to consider a Local Government Laws Amendment Bill which critics say will allow the 83-year-old autocrat to gerrymander constituencies and consolidate his power in local authorities.

The new Parliamentary session comes as the opposition calls protests across the country demanding free and fair polls.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is demanding that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission be reconstituted to undertake a transparent and all-inclusive voter registration and delimitation exercise.

"The MDC wants a new constitution before the next election and the date of the election that allows implementation of comprehensive reforms and tangible deliverables," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

Leader of the House Patrick Chinamasa said the government would move to adopt the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill "without fear or favour" and would not be deterred by criticism led by former colonial power Britain.

The Local Government Laws Amendment Bill "harmonises" the presidential, parliamentary, senate and municipal elections. It also contains amendments recognising the new constitutional responsibility of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission for dividing council areas into wards. The Amendment Bill also amends the Rural District Councils Act, the Urban Councils Act and the Electoral Act.

Critics say the amendment bill forms the legal framework for the 2008 electoral theft and the disenfranchisement of millions of Zimbabwean voters in the diaspora.

The Amendment Bill changes the Urban Councils Act, setting the framework for the abolition of executive mayors and executive committees and a return to the pre-1996 system of mayors and deputy mayors (chairpersons and deputy chairpersons for town councils) elected by councillors. Under the changes, the minister of Local Government will now be empowered to appoint non-voting councillors to represent special interests.

The changes also legislates for the takeover of city councils by the Local Government minister through the introduction of "caretakers" to run the affairs of non-functioning councils, replacing the present system of "commissioners".

The amendments to the Electoral Act merely reflect the abolition of the institution of executive mayor.

Zimbabwe government officials said the parliamentary session starting on Tuesday would likely coincide with the signing into law by Mugabe of a Public Order and Security Amendment Bill as well as amendments to tough media laws. The security and media laws were fast tracked through Parliament before the House adjourned in December.

Critics say the amendments are largely cosmetic while Mugabe retains sweeping powers to clamp down on the opposition as he faces the biggest electoral challenge since taking power in 1980.

The government says the Local Government Laws Amendment Bill is aimed at consolidating electoral legislation and has nothing to do with the March elections in which Mugabe's main rival will be MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The MDC leader says that without violence, and in a fair and free political environment, Mugabe would lose in March.

Parliament is also due to consider an election regulations bill under which the government proposes to ban local independent monitors from the March elections and to bar private organisations from voter education.

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