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Zimbabwe Ruling Party Factionalism Nearly Derails Constitutional Amendment

Legislation making major changes to the Zimbabwe constitution where elections are concerned passed by a unanimous vote Thursday in parliament's lower house, though factional divisions in the ruling ZANU-PF party earlier threatened to derail the bill.

Ironically, the ruling party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had one day earlier overcome their differences to agree a compromise on the measure.

ZANU-PF sources said a faction headed by Vice President Joyce Mujuru, at one time a favorite of President Robert Mugabe but now at odds with the 83-year-old leader, planned to boycott the session and delay passage of the legislation by denying its sponsors the two-thirds majority required for constitutional amendments.

For hours, only 51 ZANU-PF members, including Mujuru and her fellow vice president, Joseph Msika, who do not ordinarily attend parliamentary sessions, were in August House out of a possible total of 109 ruling party lawmakers.

ZANU-PF Chief Whip Joram Gumbo asked for time to summon the errant members and the bill eventually passed unanimously with 111 votes.

Party insiders said the Mujuru camp is unhappy with a clause of the constitutional amendment that leaves it to parliament to select a presidential successor if the incumbent dies, is incapacitated, or resigns - considered by many to be one possible scenario if Mr. Mugabe secures re-election in March 2008 balloting.

The Mujuru faction is also said to be displeased with the direction of crisis talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki. Party sources say progress in the talks has rattled Mujuru loyalists who were positioning for a deepening crisis in the ruling party leading its heavyweights to vote Mr. Mugabe out of power.

Some members of parliament are also less than pleased at the addition of 60 house seats, which means slicing up a large number of existing constituencies.

The opposition and its civil society allies are also divided over the constitutional amendment. Some prominent civic leaders call it a betrayal of principles. MDC sources said the party will now move to patch up the split in broad opposition ranks.

Political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya, also a Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition program manager, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the succession dispute could eventually cause a split in the ruling party.

Following the house passage of the amendment bill Thursday, vice president Msika dropped a broad hint that he may retire from politics before long.

VOA correspondent Thomas Chiripasi, reported from Harare that the expectation was that Msika might retire in December at ZANU-PF's extraordinary congress.

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