Zimbabwe Parliament to pass rights-curtailing Bill today

HARARE -- President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party will today use its absolute control of Parliament to force through the House a raft of constitutional amendments that will take away some of Zimbabweans' most fundamental rights such as the right to own agricultural land.
ZANU PF, which failed to win an absolute majority in last March's disputed election but still enjoys absolute control of Parliament through additional support from Mugabe appointees to the House, yesterday summoned through state-owned media all its parliamentarians to be present today to ensure the Constitutional Amendment Bill sails through.

The controversial Bill described in a statement issued yesterday by the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) as a "direct and undisguised frontal assault" on the rights of Zimbabweans will virtually nationalise agricultural land, banning private landowners from contesting seizure of their land by the state, while courts will be prohibited from hearing such appeals.

The omnibus amendment Bill will allow Mugabe's government to deny passports to its critics and will also create a 66-seat Senate, which Mugabe has publicly said he wants to use to appease disgruntled lieutenants in his ZANU PF party by rewarding them with seats in the upper chamber.

The proposals sailed through the first stages in Parliament last week when 61 ZANU PF legislators voted for Parliament to adopt the Bill while 28 opposition legislators voted against the Bill.

Two thirds of Parliament's total 150 members must vote in favour of the Bill today before Mugabe signs it into effective law. ZANU PF can easily amass the required number of votes.

The party won 78 seats last March and controls another 12 seats occupied by unelected individuals appointed to Parliament by Mugabe through a constitutional clause allowing him to do so.

The ruling party also enjoys the support of the eight provincial governors, who seat in Parliament with full voting powers. The governors were handpicked to their posts by Mugabe. ZANU PF can also bank on the support of the 10 chiefs who seat in Parliament and have since independence voted with the ruling party.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party has 41 seats in the House while former Mugabe propaganda chief, Jonathan Moyo, holds the remaining seat.

In its Monday statement the LSZ, which is the representative body of the legal profession in the country, criticised the constitutional Bill saying it served to: "trivialize the constitution, which is the bedrock of the law."

The society called on the government to drop the Bill and instead open up an all inclusive and democratic constitutional reform process. ZimOnline.