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Harare Proposes New Constitutional Amendment; Opposition Cries Foul

Zimbabwe's opposition and civil society has raised strenuous objections to the latest constitutional amendment sent by President Robert Mugabe's cabinet to parliament, saying its sweeping changes to the electoral system serve only his ruling party.

Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front wields a supermajority in parliament that allows it to pass constitutional amendments into law.

Amendment 18 to the Zimbabwean Constitution would shorten the term of parliament so a general election can be held in March at the same time as a presidential ballot.

But it would also add 60 seats to the parliament and 18 to the senate, and critics say the creation of the new constituencies is likely to involve extensive gerrymandering while strengthening Mr. Mugabe's hold through new patronage opportunities.

And if the amendment is passed into law the two houses of parliament would elect the president should the incumbent resign, die or be incapacitated, ensuring that if Mr. Mugabe should step down or expire, ZANU-PF could choose his successor.

The National Constitutional Assembly, which has been calling for a total rewrite of the constitution, said the amendment goes against the wishes of most Zimbabweans.

The group said the government and ruling party never consulted voters in drawing up the amendment, which critics said could also derail crisis talks under South African mediation, given that those discussions focus heavily on electoral conditions.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai said the formation will issue a statement on the proposed amendment on Wednesday.

The faction led by Arthur Mutambara called the amendment "deeply regrettable" considering that the ruling party enjoys a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The amendment would create a Zimbabwean Human Rights Commission, but NCA National Director Ernest Mudzengi told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that such a commission will be fatally flawed because of the mechanism creating it.

Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu declined to comment in the matter.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...