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Skeptical Of Outcome, Zimbabwe Public Weighs In On Amendment

Public hearings in Harare and Bulawayo on the Zimbabwean government's proposal to amend the national constitution in ways that would significantly change the electoral landscape are primarily turning up opposition to the measure.

A parliamentary public hearing Friday in Bulawayo, the country's second-largest city, failed to draw a large turnout - but the few who showed up said the amendment was an ill-timed waste of resources that would do little to relieve suffering Zimbabweans.

Correspondent Netsai Mlilo reported from the Rainbow Hotel in Bulawayo.

Though parliament was registering public opinion on the proposed amendment, some who attended the hearings said they doubted whether the public input would have an impact on the final shape of the legislation to be tabled in parliament.

Experts noted that as a constitutional amendment, the law does not have to be vetted by a parliamentary committee but can go straight to the floor for debate after which the ruling party ZANU-PF party, armed with the two-thirds majority it claimed in the 2005 general election, could easily pass it for signature by President Robert Mugabe.

Another issue of concern is timing – presidential and general elections are just seven months off, and many of the constitutional changes that are envisioned in the draft of the legislation would tip the scales in favor of Mr. Mugabe's ruling party.

For instance, the amendment will create 60 new house seats, for a total of 2010, giving the ruling party an opportunity to gerrymander ruling party-safe districts.

For insight, VOA turned to Chief Executive Officer Cephus Zinhumwe of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations and National Advocacy Chairman Felix Mafa of the National Constitutional Assembly, who spoke at public hearings this week in Harare and Bulawayo, respectively.

NANGO's Zinhumwe told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while civil society groups doubt the hearings will make much difference once the legislation is tabled in parliament, they want to register their views.

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