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Power-Sharing Partners Set Changes in Zimbabwe Constitutional Rewrite Process

The three principals in Zimbabwe’s troubled unity government have overhauled management of the country's ongoing constitutional revision process in response to civic activists who have challenged Parliament's leading role in the exercise, sources said Friday.

Sources in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's wing of the Movement for Democratic Change said those two leaders and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, head of a rival MDC formation, met Thursday and agreed to set up an independent secretariat to oversee the redrafting of Zimbabwe's basic document.

Since earlier this year that task had been in the hands of the Select Parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Reform. However, the three co-chairman of that committee, representing the three parties sharing power in the unity government, will sit on the new panel.

The new secretariat will also include the three negotiators of the Global Political Agreement underpinning the unity government, Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga, and two civil society representatives: Phineas Makhurane, ex-chancellor of the National University of Science and Technology, and Hope Sadza, founder of the Women’s University in Africa.

Though the principals were able to reach agreement on creating the secretariat, sources said they remain far apart on the question of the so-called Kariba constitutional draft written and approved by all three parties in 2007 in the Zambezi River resort town. ZANU-PF wants it to be the basis for the new constitution; the MDC and civic activists want a clean slate.

Tsvangirai MDC sources present at the meeting of the principals said the draft will be a point of reference in drafting the new constitution. But ZANU-PF and Mutambara MDC sources say the Kariba draft will be the basis for the new constitution. Semantics aside, the Kariba draft significantly reinforces presidential powers without strongly buttressing civil liberties.

Mr. Tsvangirai met Friday with civil society representatives in his capacity as head of the main MDC formation to inform them of the change, MDC and civic sources said.

Representatives of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association or ZimRights, the Crisis In Zimbabwe Coalition and other groups attended. But the meeting was boycotted by the National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and a splinter faction of the Zimbabwe National Students Union.

Those groups oppose the parliamentary led constitutional revision process and have said they will advocate a “No” vote in the case of an eventual national referendum.

NCA National Director Earnest Mudzengi, present at Friday's NGO meeting as an observer, told Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Tsvangirai acknowledged the new management panel represents an effort to respond to civil society criticisms.

Political analyst John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe applauded the changes saying they will decentralize power in a process that has been dominated by Parliament.

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