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Zimbabwe weighs wide ranging constitutional, electoral changes

Zimbabwe weighs wide ranging constitutional, electoral changes

The government of Zimbabwe has proposed constitutional changes to enable it to hold national elections early next year, increase the size of the legislature and set up a human rights commission.
In an official notice available Saturday, the proposed constitutional amendment bill makes provisions for holding parliamentary and presidential polls at the same time in March, and for increasing the number of seats in the House of Assembly from 150 to 210 and in the Senate from 66 to 84.
In order to hold elections together, the bill proposes shortening the presidential term from six years to five years _ the same as for parliament.
The proposed rights commission _ seen by independent human rights groups and critics of President Robert Mugabe as a likely smoke screen for his record on human and democratic rights abuses _ would have 16 members drawn from names compiled by Mugabe and the ruling party-dominated parliament. Mugabe would appoint eight of the rights commissioners from a shortlist, according to the official government gazette.
Parliament was scheduled to debate the bill, proposing the 18th range of constitutional amendments since independence in 1980, next month. It would need to be approved by a majority of lawmakers and signed into law by Mugabe.
It also proposes electoral changes, including the carving up of several constituencies to form new voting districts.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Changes has accused the government of changing district boundaries to water down opposition strongholds, but the government insists present constituencies are too large for incumbent lawmakers to manage their affairs.
The proposed amendments reduce the number of lawmakers in the enlarged lower house appointed by Mugabe from 30 to 10, but he is empowered to appoint 34 senators including traditional tribal chiefs and provincial governors to the upper house.
In the existing Senate he appointed 16 of the 66 senators. The ruling party-dominated Senate rubber stamps new legislation and has powers to send bills back for reconsideration, falling short of an outright veto.
Mugabe said that holding House, Senate and presidential elections together would minimize ballot costs.
Critics, however, called it a tactic to entrench the ruling party's hold over the legislature, by shortening the rest of the existing assembly's term by two years if a new ballot was called for next year.
The current House of Assembly, in which the opposition holds 40 seats, was elected in amid allegations of violence, intimidation and vote rigging by the ruling party and state electoral authorities.
Critics also described the proposed human rights commission as a cosmetic nature, despite the government's saying it was designed following U.N. recommendations.
Mugabe, 83, is set to contest next year's presidential vote against the fractured opposition, seeing him, the only ruler since independence, holding onto power until 2013 when he will be nearly aged 90.
Earlier this year, Mugabe used the proposed change to harmonized polls to fend off challenges to his leadership by rival factions within the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party.
Mugabe loyalists said only he had the ability to resoundingly win any presidential race and hold onto power during the nation's worst political and economic crisis.
Official inflation is 3,714 percent, the highest in the world, and Zimbabwe faces acute shortages of hard currency, gasoline, food and most basic goods.


Updated : 2021-10-19 01:57 GMT+08:00