November 1, 2007

Mugabe signs “succession bill” into law / Zanu and MDC agree on poll delay

The controversial Bill that combines the presidential, parliamentary and council elections in Zimbabwe in 2008, and allows Robert Mugabe to pick a successor should he retire mid-term, has finally been signed into law. Civil groups have criticized the Bill from the beginning, saying the people of Zimbabwe were betrayed because they were not consulted. Known as the Constitutional Amendment Bill #18, this legislation is a compromise deal that resulted from the ongoing mediated talks between Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party and both factions of the opposition MDC.
Mugabe gave up his power to appoint members to parliament's lower house, which was increased from 150 members to 210. The number of Senators in the upper house was also increased from 84 to 93. And Parliament was bestowed the power to elect a new leader, should the incumbent not be able to complete the term. Analysts say this is where Mugabe gained the most, because his ruling party has a majority in parliament that will vote for whomever he chooses, hence the term "Succession Bill". The MDC had insisted on a whole new constitution ahead of any elections, but settled for the changes instead. For this they were criticized strongly by the civil groups, who felt betrayed.
Fambai Ngirande, spokesperson for the umbrella National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), said they were taken aback by the opposition's decision to go along with changes to an amendment, rather than the wholesale constitutional changes that they had originally advocated. Ngirande said: "These are politicians that are holding the people of Zimbabwe to ransom and it is a pity that the MDC's preoccupation with elections has resulted in them consenting to this Bill, yet throughout the founding of the MDC they have been with us in calling for a wholesale people driven constitutional reform process."
In the meantime, ZANU-PF and the MDC have agreed to postpone next year's crucial elections from March to June during ongoing talks in Pretoria. For the elections to take place the government has started scrambling to mobilise enough money to finance them. About Z$3,5-trillion ($3,5m) is needed before the end of 2007 to print the voters' roll. The registrar- general's office has received only Z$110bn so far. (Business Day, Johannesburg / Zimbabwe Independent, Harare)

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