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Racing Against Time, Zimbabwe Fast-Tracks New Constitution Effort

Zimbabwe's parliamentary committee spearheading efforts to write a new constitution is trying to fast-track the process by controversially scrapping regional consultations with the public before taking the long-delayed draft charter to a national referendum.

The new constitutional effort - started three years ago - has stalled several times due to disagreements among the three political parties in the unity government.

Last week the committee presented the parties with an incomplete draft for further discussion. But informed sources say ZANU-PF hardliners are threatening to block any progress.

They say in anticipation of further delays due to political bickering, the parliamentary committee has resolved to hold a second all-stakeholders conference, and not regional meetings.

Critics say the development vindicates their sustained opposition to the process being championed by politicians.

The Management Committee, comprising party negotiators, select committee co-chairpersons and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga, met for the third time Tuesday in a month but remained deadlocked over devolution.

Secretary-General Tendai Biti of the MDC wing led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that progress has been made though further delays cannot be ruled out.

President Robert Mugabe has registered his discontent over the delays and threatened to force elections this year using the country's founding charter, widely-criticized as flawed.

Human rights lawyer and acting Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director, Dewa Mavhinga commented that retaining an executive president in the new constitution is a cause for concern.