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Harare - Zanu-PF amendments to Zimbabwe's draft constitution, restoring sweeping powers to the president and setting up a mandatory youth service, have been rejected by its MDC coalition partners and are likely to delay adoption of the landmark new document.
Earlier this month, regional leaders said work on the new constitution was near completion, boding well for parliamentary elections required by next year under a power sharing deal between ZANU-PF, the MDC and a smaller MDC splinter group.
Approval of the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in parliament and none of the parties have enough seats to railroad the document through on their own.
Zimbabweans had hoped elections held under a new constitution agreed by all parties would avoid the sort of violence that marred previous polls and led to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring South Africa.
A draft produced by an inter-party parliamentary committee and agreed by ZANU-PF and MDC negotiators last month curbed presidential powers by requiring lawmakers' approval for the dissolution of parliament, and for the declaration of war and public emergencies.
It left the president with the authority to make senior appointments.
In the amended draft seen by Reuters on Friday, ZANU-PF, President Robert Mugabe's party, restores to the president the power to declare war and dissolve parliament, concentrates power in the central government and sets up a mandatory youth service.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which formed the coalition government with the rival ZANU-PF in 2009, immediately rejected the changes. The draft was given to the MDC and an MDC splinter group this week.
MDC leaders say the mandatory youth service for all school leavers that ZANU-PF proposes is worrying because a similar scheme was in the past used to produce pro-Mugabe “militias” used to intimidate and beat up the opposition.
Mugabe, 88, has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and is under international sanctions for suspected human rights abuses.
“Even at our most foolish, there is no way we could ever accept those amendments. Anyone who does so would be committing political suicide,” Welshman Ncube, leader of the MDC splinter group, posted on his Facebook page.
Zimbabwe's struggling economy, crushed by hyperinflation about four years ago, has been recovering slowly since the power-sharing deal brought greater stability to the country.
Mineral-rich Zimbabwe once had one of the strongest economies in Africa, but is now among the continent's poorest countries, the result of what analysts say is years of economic mismanagement by Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
ZANU-PF, which has been calling for early elections this year, said there would be an emergency meeting of its top committee on Saturday to discuss how to proceed in light of the MDC rejection of its amendments. - Reuters