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Zimbabwe Parliament Criticized for Failing to Pass Key Reform Laws

Changes in the country's electoral dispensation also remained in limbo as lawmakers haggled over such issues as the diaspora vote and a much-needed overhaul of the national voter register

Now adjourned until late February, Zimbabwe's Parliament is under fire from human rights campaigners and other activists for concluding its 2011 session without passing key laws to advance reform and open up the nation’s democratic space.

While both houses managed to pass a number of less important bills, they failed to deal with three major reform-oriented pieces including the Electoral Amendment Bill, the Public Order and Security Bill and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Bill.

The Public Order and Security Act Amendment Bill, privately sponsored by a lawmaker of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, made it through the house (which the combined MDC formations control) but was dead on arrival at the Senate where President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF has a majority.

ZANU-PF argued that the controversial legislation was before the unity government principals and that Parliament could not move on it in the meantime.

MDC and ZANU-PF lawmakers also failed to agree when investigations into human rights violations should begin, stalling the Human Rights Bill that would have empowered the new rights commission to take action on alleged violations.

Electoral changes also remained in limbo as lawmakers haggled over such issues as the diaspora vote and a much-needed overhaul of the national voter register.

Election Resource Center Project Officer Jack Zaba told VOA that the failure of the legislature to deal with the three bills bodes poorly for the reform agenda.

"There is a general reluctance against reforms, especially on the part of ZANU-PF," Zaba commented. "They seem not to be comfortable with electoral reforms and other political reforms in general."

Parliamentary Whip Innocent Gonese of the Tsvangirai MDC formation, who sponsored the proposed amendments to the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill - widely known to Zimbabweans as POSA - said he will renew his push in the 2012 session.

But ZANU-PF Parliamentary Whip Joram Gumbo rejected the charges by some that his party is the one stalling reform." What happened especially with the Public Order and Security Bill is that the MDC failed to follow procedure in introducing it," Gumbo said.

Human rights lawyer Matshobana Ncube of the Bulawayo-based Abammeli Human Rights Lawyers said the Human Rights Bill should be passed without further delay so the commission can start looking into ongoing rights violations.