Some leading figures in Zimbabwean civil society are condemning a compromise deal struck by the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change on a constitutional amendment tabled in parliament by ZANU-PF last week and revised following negotiations in South-African led crisis resolution talks.
Besides providing for presidential, general and local elections to be held at the same time in March 2008, The amendment would increase the size of the lower house and senate and, most significantly from the point of view of critics, let parliament choose a new president if the incumbent resigns, is incapacitated or dies. Critics say that could effectively let President Robert Mugabe choose his own successor.
The National Constitutional Assembly, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and other key MDC allies called the compromise on the amendment legislation a "sellout." They castigated both factions of the opposition for entering a pact with the ruling party to make what they say are piecemeal constitutional changes rather than insisting on a new constitution.
National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe the MDC pact with ZANU-PF is "treachery."
Despite the civil society objections, opposition lawmakers have pressed ahead with parliamentary work on the amendment.
But Chief Whip Innocent Gonese of the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai said a full constitutional rewrite remains on the agenda of the South African-mediated talks.
South African officials, meanwhile, said the deal between ZANU-PF and the MDC vindicates the "quiet diplomacy” Pretoria has pursued in the Zimbabwe crisis.
Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad hailed the compromise on the amendment as a positive development that could help bring about credible elections in Zimbabwe for the first time in years and promote a political solution to the crisis.
He told reporters the deal shows the way to a solution lies in Zimbabwe itself.