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Zimbabwe Ruling Party, Opposition Strike Deal On Constitutional Changes

Representatives of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and both factions of the divided opposition Movement for Democratic Change told lawmakers Tuesday that they had come to a compromise agreement for revisions to the controversial constitutional amendment bill that the government tabled in the lower house last week.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, one of two negotiators for the ruling party in the South African-mediated crisis resolution talks launched in March under the aegis of the Southern African Development Community, presented the revised bill.

The compromise version provides for all members of the lower house to be elected. President Robert Mugabe or his successor will appoint just 15 members of the senate. Presidential, parliamentary and local elections will be held at the same time.

Parliament will choose a new president if the incumbent should resign, die or become incapacitated. The revision still provides for 60 new house seats and 27 new senate seats for respective totals of 210 and 93 seats. The allowable population variance in carving out the new constituencies will remain 20 percent as now set out in law.

In addition, the Zimbabwe Election Commission will assume responsibility for voter registration from the Office of the Registrar General.

Opposition leaders expressed satisfaction at achieving the compromise, but many in the rank and file still oppose the amendment measure, not least because it could let President Robert Mugabe in effect decide who will succeed him.

Vice President Thokozane Khupe of the MDC faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, taking the podium in August House after Chinamasa, described the compromise on the amendment bill as a "confidence-building measure" in resolving the crisis.

ZANU-PF Chief Whip Joram Gumbo told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the pact is historic and could augur positive things to come. Khupe said the Tsvangirai faction is still pushing for an entirely new constitution.

Secretary General Ncube of the Mutambara faction said the two opposition formations met in caucus early Tuesday to carve out a common position, adding that a totally overhauled constitution remains on the agenda of the Pretoria-brokered talks.

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