Zimbabwe's House of Assembly approved amendments to the country's widely criticized Public Order and Security Act on Wednesday, but sources said security service chiefs were bringing pressure on parliamentarians of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party to withdraw their support for the reform legislation.
Introduced by lawmaker Innocent Gonese, chief whip of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the changes in the law would shift the power to approve or bar public meetings from the police to magistrates.
ZANU-PF sources said party lawmakers have come under pressure to withdraw their support following objections from the Joint Operations Command, a working group that brings together the heads of the armed services, police and intelligence agencies - that the modifications to the unpopular security law could lead to anarchy.
Home Affairs Secretary Melusi Matshiya told Parliament's committee on home affairs and defense that amending POSA would make police operations less effective.
Sources in ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change said there was little debate in the House on Wednesaday as the legislation was passed to the Senate for action there, with many members absent. But ZANU-PF member Kudakwashe Bhasikiti warned that the legislation will face stronger resistance in the upper house.
Sponsor Gonese saiud that he expects resistance but remains hopeful the law will pass.
The roots of the Public Order and Security Act can be traced to the Rhodesian Law and Order Maintenance Act that was used by the colonial government under Ian Smith to suppress political organization and expression by the black majority.
Facing a challenge from the opposition MDC, ZANU-PF in the last decade used POSA to suppress basic freedoms, in particular political gatherings by its opponents.
Even under the currrent national unity government which includes the two branches of the MDC, the Zimbabwean Republic Police often MDC rallies, saying the party must seek permission for such gatherings as opposed to simply notifying authorities.
In other parliamentary business, the House of Assembly gave its approval to the 2011 finance and appropriation bills despite reports legislators intended to block passage in support of demands for increased salaries and constitutency allowances.
Gonese told VOA reporter Brenda Moyo that the bills passed without incident.