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Zimbabwean Unity Government a Step Closer After Parliamentary Votes

Both houses of the Zimbabwean parliament on Thursday passed legislation paving the way for a national unity government bringing together the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Morgan Tsvangirai after months of delay following last September's signature of a power-sharing accord.

The legislation for an omnibus 19th amendment to the country's constitution won passage in the House of Assembly with the support of 184 lawmakers out of a total of 210. It later sailed through the Senate with the unanimous votes of the 72 members present.

The amendment creates the post of prime minister, which MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the dominant MDC formation, is set to assume as early as next week.

Tsvangirai agreed last week to join a unity government with Mr. Mugabe after months of wrangling over the distribution of cabinet posts. They have yet to resolve all their differences, but many observers saw their agreement to form the government and passage of the amendment as two significant steps forward.

Formation of a so-called all-inclusive government was encouraged by the Southern African Development Community as a way to end violence and resolve bitter divisions following the country's March 2008 presidential, general and local elections. The MDC won a majority in parliament and Tsvangirai defeated Mr. Mugabe in the first-round presidential election, but electoral officials said he had not achieved a majority, obliging a run-off to be held.

Tsvangirai withdrew from the June 27 run-off in protest of mounting violence which claimed the lives of more than a hundred of his supporters, and Mr. Mugabe claimed victory - but most Western and some African countries challenged the legitimacy of the outcome.

Harare correspondent Irwin Chifera reported for VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe on the day's frenetic activity in the two chambers of the Zimbabwean parliament.

Though many Zimbabweans were relieved to see power-sharing moving ahead, political analyst John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe professor, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the unity government will leave parliament without an opposition party.

Though there is widespread skepticism about the unity government internationally, especially on the part of the U.S. government, formation of a successful unity government - however transitional - could put Zimbabwe on the road to recovery though it is likely to be a long one given the extent of economic, infrastructure and social collapse.

The Washington-based Fund for Peace, which compiles the annual Failed States Index with Foreign Policy magazine, last year it ranked Zimbabwe third among failed states after Somalia and Sudan, a position it doesn’t seem likely to lose any time soon given the increase in food insecurity in the past year and a continuing and deadly cholera epidemic.

Fund for Peace President Pauline Baker told Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 that Zimbabwe meets all the conditions for a failed state except there is no armed conflict in progress.

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