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Trading Barbs, Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF, MDC Converge on Presidential Term Limits

President Robert Mugabe addresses the nation as Zimbabwe celebrates 30 years of independence from Britain, in Harare, 18 Apr 2010

Despite the convergence on term limits, the perennial rift between the two parties is widening in other respects as they trade barbs over the conduct of and environment for the constitutional revision outreach process

Though clashing on many issues related to Zimbabwe's bumpy constitutional revision process, ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change appear to be converging on the question of presidential term limits.

ZANU-PF and the dominant MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have both expressed a preference for a maximum of two terms - but some reports have suggested concern in ZANU-PF that the MDC might want to see this applied retroactively, precluding another run for office by Mr. Mugabe.

Some analyses have expressed the concern that such a proposal could torpedo the constitutional revision process intended to set the country on a new political footing following a decade of crisis and botched 1008 elections. ZANU-PF insists President Mugabe, 86, must not be barred from seeking another term in office.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Tsvangirai MDC says that as a matter of principle the party is pushing for two terms – but does not seek to prevent Mr. Mugabe from seeking re-election if he so desires. In effect, following the adoption of a new constitution, everyone including Mr. Mugabe would start with a clean slate (though the question of immunity from prosecution under such a Zimbabwean new deal is a potential source of conflict).

Despite the convergence on term limits, the perennial rift between the two parties is widening in other respects as they trade barbs over the conduct of and environment for the outreach process.

The MDC has charged that ZANU-PF youths, liberation war veterans and the Central Intelligence Organization are intimidating MDC supporters. ZANU-PF says the MDC is trying to hijack the process in league with the West.

President Mugabe told ZANU-PF central committee members this week that his party would support or reject a draft constitution depending on whether it includes the positions that ZANU-PF deems indispensable. He said ZANU-PF would not compromise on its fundamental principles as a national liberation party.

MDC spokesman Chamisa dismissed reports his party is contemplating seeking a "No" vote on the constitutional draft as some have speculated. He said the party will wait for Zimbabweans to express themselves before taking a position. He said that while the MDC is unhappy about violence in the process, it won't impose its views.

In developments around the country, the MDC said its Mashonaland Central youth organizer, Zvikomborero Mbiri of Mvurwi, was abducted on Thursday by ZANU-PF youths who transported him to a base at Sirsk Farm where they detained him. He was said to have escaped early Friday, but the MDC fliers he had carried were destroyed.

The MDC said war veterans in Matebeleland North have threatened residents of Woodlands Farm, Madhumabisa Farm and Matetsi Farm with eviction if they contradict ZANU-PF positions during consultation meetings. The MDC said it foiled ZANU-PF plans to influence outreach teams to change schedules from those advertised.

But Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana, the ZANU-PF co-chairman of the parliamentary select committee for revision of the constitution, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that the outreach process has been smooth.

Elsewhere, independent observers were detained by police on Thursday and interrogated again on Friday for observing the outreach process in rural Chirumhanzu, Midlands.

Independent observation coordinator Karikoga Mudzingwa told VOA that he and four other civil society observers were held for four hours at a police post at the Chaharndura business center after being followed by suspected state security agents. The detention came despite an agreement made earlier this week between the select committee and civic activists stipulating that observers could operate without interference.

Mudzingwa said his group was released without charges Friday after reporting to police in Gweru Rural.

Mbare Member of Parliament Gift Chimanikire of the Tsvangirai MDC, touring violence-prone Mashonaland Central province, said people are free to express their views but reported a heavy presence of state security.

The National Constitutional Assembly, a non-governmental organization opposed to parliamentary control of the constitutional revision process, dismissed allegations by Douglas Mwonzora, Tsvangirai MDC co-chairman of the select committee, that that NCA intends to disrupt the process in Manicaland.

NCA spokesman Maddock Chivasa demanded that Mwonzora apologize.