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Without Fanfare, Controversial Zimbabwe Amendment Bill Introduced

Legislation proposing the 18th amendment to the Zimbabwean constitution passed its first reading in the house Wednesday with no fanfare despite widespread opposition and ongoing talks between the ruling party and the opposition as to the specifics of the bill which stands to significantly reshape the country’s electoral system.

The second reading is expected next Tuesday. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa is expected to announce any proposed changes to the current bill at that time.

But constitutional law lecturer Greg Linnington of the University of Zimbabwe told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the first reading should not have taken place at all in light of significant pending revisions.

Reports said ZANU-PF and Movement for Democratic Change negotiators in talks in South African-mediated talks in Pretoria had agreed a compromise under which all 210 seats in an expanded assembly would be directly elected - but the president would appoint 34 out of 84 seats in a similarly expanded senate.

It was unclear whether the negotiators from both factions of the MDC had demanded a change to the proposed amendment provision under which parliament would choose a successor to the president if the executive resigned, died or was incapacitated. Some worry this provision could allow President Robert Mugabe to choose his successor.

Meanwhile, opposition parliamentarian Innocent Gonese, chief whip of the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, said he is not privy to changes to the bill and awaits details in the second reading.

Gonese, representing Mutare Central, said it was perfectly normal for changes to be introduced into legislation during a second reading.

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