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Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Under Scrutiny Amid Legal Overhaul

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change says that the country's electoral commission needs to be replaced under the constitutional amendment just signed by President Robert Mugabe, as it cannot claim to be truly independent.

The ruling party and opposition agreed in negotiations for a constitutional amendment which President Mugabe signed into law last week that an independent electoral panel should be constituted to oversee the elections coming up next year.

However, this was not spelled out in the amendment legislation and to date remains to be carried out as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is now proceeding with various preparations for elections, including the delimitation of new constituencies.

The government-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper quoted ZEC Chairman George Chiweshe as saying the commission is independent as "the constitution says we shall not be under anyone's influence, that is exactly what we will follow."

But opposition officials reject the notion that the ZEC, named by President Mugabe, could be as independent as a panel named by parliament and all parties.

Meanwhile, the new Electoral Laws Amendment Bill, which is expected to bear upon the operations of the electoral commission, has yet to be officially gazetted.

Elections Director Ian Makone of the MDC faction of Morgan Tsvangirai, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that a new commission which respects the spirit of the Pretoria-negotiated accords must be established.

Elections Director Paul Themba Nyathi of the Arthur Mutambara opposition faction says the electoral commission is still operating legally, but adds that it should not take any major steps until the legislation enabling the amendment is in place.

From a legal standpoint, Jacob Mafume, lawyer and national coordinator of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said that in the absence of enabling legislation to alter the composition and operations of the present commission, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is currently operating within the bounds of the law.

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