Zimbabwe draft constitution clips president’s power

HARARE — Zimbabwe has finished drafting a new constitution that limits the powers of the president while strengthening those of parliament, a key but much-delayed precursor to elections, a legislative committee said on Friday.

In a statement, the inter-party body said it had finished a draft of the charter, which will now be reviewed by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, partners in an uneasy coalition government formed after a disputed vote in 2008.

The draft, seen by Reuters on Friday, imposes two five-year terms on the presidency, which currently has no term limit.

It also curbs the sweeping powers of the president by requiring lawmakers' approval for the dissolution of parliament, declaration of war and public emergencies. However, the president retains authority over senior appointments.

The charter affirms freedom of expression and the press, while giving increased powers to provincial governing councils — a key demand of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, which accuses Mugabe's ZANU-PF of centralizing power.

A referendum on the charter is set to be held before the end of this year, ahead of an election expected in 2013.

Mugabe has been pushing for an early election to end the coalition but seems to have backed off after southern African leaders, fearing a repeat of the bloody 2008 vote, insisted on a vote only after a new constitution and electoral law reforms.

However, the southern African nation is set to hold by-elections this year to fill 38 vacant parliamentary seats after a Supreme Court order last week to fill three vacant constituencies by 30 August.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliament the by-elections would also include 35 other vacant seats, state media reported on Friday.

"We can't hold by-elections in three vacant constituencies only, but in 38 parliamentary vacant seats and in all vacant seats in local authorities," Chinamasa was quoted by the Herald newspaper as telling the Senate.

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