Accessibility links

Zimbabwe Opposition Tries To Mollify NGO Critics On Constitution Vote

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change remained at odds Monday with many of its traditional civil society allies over its controversial deal with the ruling ZANU-PF party to amend the constitution, but was moving to patch up the rift.

MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai met on Monday with leaders of groups including the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the Zimbabwe National Students Union in an effort to defuse the crisis.

But key allies including the National Constitutional Assembly, the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights refused his conciliatory invitation.

Some civic leaders have taken to calling the MDC's endorsement of the constitutional amendment “the great betrayal.” Ironically, Tsvangirai's MDC faction and its rival led by Arthur Mutambara find themselves united under attack by civic activists.

The activists complain that the MDC agreed to sweeping changes to the constitution as to the composition of both houses of parliament and presidential succession with minimal consultation, adding that the MDC should have insisted on a full rewrite.

Acting Executive Director Irene Petras of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said giving parliament the power to elect a president when an incumbent dies, is incapacitated or resigns runs against accepted international norms.

However, she said most of the constitutional changes are cosmetic.

Meanwhile, the London-based Africa Confidential newsletter said MDC leaders were assured by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating crisis talks with a mandate from the Southern African Development Community, that ZANU-PF would agree to repeal the Public Order and Security Act and write new election laws.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai's faction declined to comment on that report, but said opposition leaders believe history will vindicate their decision.

NCA National Director Ernest Mudzengi said the dissenting civic groups want to meet as "stakeholders" to clarify their position and relationship with the opposition.

Elsewhere, sources said negotiators for the MDC and ZANU-PF met Monday in Harare to discuss outstanding issues including the Public Order and Security Act - which the opposition wants to see repealed - and existing electoral laws.

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