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Zimbabwe Government Expands Harare In Prelude To Redistricting

The Zimbabwean government said it had taken steps to expand Harare, the capital, to to incorporate parts of the Mashonaland East, West and Central provinces, in a move that will yield more political wards and electoral constituencies constituencies.

Though the government has yet to detail the electoral impact, experts and critics said the expansion of the capital's geographical bounds was a preliminary step in moves to add 60 seats to the parliament and another 18 to the senate. The addition of seats is seen as a move to improve the ruling party's chances in the parliamentary elections set for March 2008, and to strengthen the hand of President Robert Mugabe.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo as saying a similar exercise will take place in Bulawayo, the country's second largest city, and in rural districts to allow councilors to operate more easily.

But the government's true motivation is believed by many to be to increase the number of constituencies in rural areas where it traditionally has been dominant.

In 2005 the government created Harare South constituency by incorporating farms south of the capital. It is now the only seat the ruling ZANU-PF holds in Harare.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network Chairman Reginald Matchaba-Hove told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the government was wasting public funds, and that it should have consulted the opposition and civic groups before launching into redistricting.

His organization is also concerned about the logistical impact of adding 60 house seats and 18 senate seats as Mr. Mugabe's cabinet has proposed.

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