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Zimbabwe Opposition Tables Draft Constitution in Parliament

Facing government-sponsored constitutional amendments that would boost state powers and restrict individual rights, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party proposed an entirely new constitution to the ruling party-controlled parliament on Wednesday.

The constitution proposed by the Movement for Democratic Change would abolish the executive presidency as it has been defined by incumbent Robert Mugabe, and create the post of prime minister, which would be filled by parliamentary vote.

All members of parliament would be popularly elected – the president now controls 30 seats. MDC Parliamentary Secretary for Economic Affairs Tendai Biti acknowledged that the draft legislation has no chance of being adopted, as President Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front holds a two-thirds majority.

The opposition proposal comes as the ruling ZANU-PF plans to make its own changes to the constitution. They would allow the government to assume ownership of farmland more quickly, and to confiscate passports from citizens who it says pose a threat to national security. Critics say the latter powers could be used against opponents.

The government has put its amendment legislation on a fast track through parliament. This week the bill was voted through a first and a second reading before being sent to committee, from which it was expected to emerge next week for a final vote.

But some ruling party members have expressed reservations. The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted the chairman of parliament’s committee on justice, legal and parliamentary affairs, Shadreck Chipanga, as saying that his panel received mixed opinions on the bill from the public during a hearing held earlier this month.

The legislation also runs counter to the wishes of those in the region who are trying to convince President Mugabe to expand Zimbabwe’s democratic space by rolling back some of the repressive security and media measures instituted in recent years.

Such reform steps are reportedly being presented as conditions for a financial bailout loan which Harare has sought from South Africa to stave off total economic collapse.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with David Coltart, the MDC’s parliamentary spokesman for legal affairs and Bulawayo based human rights lawyer, about Wednesday’s debate and vote on the proposed amendments.