South African President Thabo Mbeki’s influence in Zimbabwean politics faces a test this week as the politiburo and central committee of the country's ruling party meet to discuss proposals emerging from the crisis resolution talks he is mediating.
Sources in the ZANU-PF ruling party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said a consensus has been reached by the two parties to the talks as to the shape of a constitutional amendment awaiting action by the parliament. The amendment would make sweeping changes in the electoral dispensation.
It remains to be seen if ZANU-PF hard-liners will accept the compromise deal. Sources said negotiators agreed the lower house would expand from 150 to 210 seats, none of which would be presidentially appointed. On the senate side the president will name 35 out of 93 senators - the upper chamber currently has 66 seats.
The negotiators who met in Pretoria recently also agreed to hold local elections as well as presidential, general and senate elections at the same time in March of next year – as matter stand, the local elections were to be held in January.
The Pretoria compromise tightens the rules for redistricting from what the ruling party had proposed in its draft amendment, allowing only a 20% variance in the population of redrawn districts, as opposed to the 25% variance ZANU-PF had proposed.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, lead negotiator for ZANU-PF, was expected to table the amendment legislation in parliament on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
Some found encouragement in the compromises in Pretoria – but Senior Researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that piecemeal changes to the constitution cannot ensure that next year’s Zimbabwe elections will be free and fair.
Cape Town-based political analyst Glen Mpani agreed, saying Harare needs to scrap draconian laws including in particular Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which respectively have been used by Harare to stifle political dissent and press freedom.
In other parliamentary business, sources said the government will amend its so-called indigenization legislation to provide that companies obliged to cede a 51% controlling stake in their enterprise will also be obliged to fund such indigenous investments.
The government would impose a levy on publicly traded or privately held firms to fund what it describes as an economic empowerment fund. Harare had proposed to fund the takeovers itself, but finance ministry sources say this would be too expensive.
They noted that projected public revenues will only fund about Z$37 trillion of the Z$255 trillion supplementary budget presented to parliament last week.
Harare economist John Robertson called the latest proposal "a wicked act."
Dennis Mandudzo, a U.S.-based doctoral candidate in finance, said the proposed modification to the indigenization legislation will further spur investor flight.