November 19, 2008 / 1:54 PM / 11 years ago

Mbeki to check Zimbabwe constitution bill: report

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has sent a draft copy of a constitutional amendment giving President Robert Mugabe the power to form a government unilaterally to mediator Thabo Mbeki for review, the state-run Herald newspaper said Wednesday.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki (centre L) greets Tomaz Salomao, secretary-general of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as they arrive for a summit in Mbabane October 20, 2008. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said it had not been consulted and the draft was solely a ruling party document.

The MDC has refused to enter the government, accusing Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF of trying to take the most powerful ministries and freeze out the MDC — violating a September 15 power-sharing deal — leading to a two-month deadlock in talks over the formation of a cabinet.

Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement, signed after intense mediation by former South African President Mbeki, may unravel if Mugabe pushes ahead with the plan to name a cabinet without opposition agreement, jeopardizing what is seen as the country’s best chance of reversing a deep economic slide.

“Draft Constitutional Amendment Number 19 Bill has been completed and sent to the mediator in South Africa (Mbeki) after scrutiny by the parties concerned,” the Herald quoted Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu as saying Tuesday.

In allegations that could fuel political tensions, the MDC said Wednesday that Zimbabwean police have failed to account for 12 of its members abducted 21 days ago.

“These unlawful arrests, detentions and abductions of MDC activists should cease as a matter of urgency,” the MDC said in a statement.

“The regime has begun a systematic crackdown on the party members in the country as it tries in vain to solidify trumped-up charges of banditry and terrorism against MDC supporters.”

Police officials were not immediately available for comment.

The MDC said the draft bill would need to be merged with an amendment drawn up by the opposition.

“The draft has not been availed to the MDC. It is a ZANU-PF draft, we have our own draft. And the two will have to be merged through collective drafting, we are not going to have ZANU-PF ideas imposed on the people of Zimbabwe,” said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Tuesday that the amendment had no chance of being passed in parliament, now controlled by the opposition. The MDC won a parliamentary election in March.

Tsvangirai also won a joint presidential election but without the required majority to avoid a run-off with Mugabe. The MDC leader boycotted the second round because of violent attacks on his supporters and Mugabe breezed to an easy victory.

Ndlovu said Mugabe was still in the process of assembling a new cabinet but gave no timetable on when it would be announced.

The key contention is the home affairs ministry, which controls the police. The 15-nation regional group SADC said at a summit earlier this month the post should be shared, but the MDC refused that suggestion.

Critics accuse Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, of ruining the country, but the 84-year-old leader says the economy has been sabotaged by forces opposed to his nationalist stance.

Official inflation is at 231 million percent, food and fuel shortages are widespread and the Zimbabwean dollar is virtually worthless in a country once prosperous and seen as southern Africa’s breadbasket.

Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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