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Zimbabwe Opposition Warily Eyes Constitutional Amendment Legislation

Though the Zimbabwean parliamentary session that opened this week has turned first to legislation providing in effect for the nationalization of all companies in the name of black empowerment, the main focus of attention in the weeks and months ahead seems likely to be the government’s bill to amend the constitution.

Not yet officially tabled, the bill has drawn fire from opposition parties and civic groups that oppose what they call “piecemeal” changes to the basic document. It would:

    • Add 60 seats to the lower house and 18 to the senate; Shorten the presidential term to five years from six; Call general elections in 2008 - two years early; Provide for the parliament choose a new president in the case of death, incapacitation or early retirement.

Both factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are still discussing how they can shape the bill's final form, but analysts say that given the ruling party's two-thirds house majority the MDC has little room to influence the outcome.

Lawmaker Innocent Gonese of Mutare, chief whip for the MDC faction of Morgan Tsvangirai, told reporter Carole Gombakomba his formation hopes the ruling party will put the national interest first and compromise to ensure free and fair elections.

Some legislators said that unlike ordinary legislation, the amendment bill won't go into committee but will be presented directly to the house for debate and voting.

Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga, member for Glen Norah, Harare, for the opposition faction of Arthur Mutambara, said the MDC influenced previous amendments so she has no doubt that when the debate starts in parliament its voice will be heard.

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