Parly divided over bill

Zimbabwe's parliament is sharply divided about the decision to pass an Electoral Amendment Bill seen as a bid by President Robert Mugabe's government to steal the forthcoming elections.

The Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs started countrywide public hearings on the Electoral Amendment Bill on Monday.

The Zimbabwean heard that President Mugabe's Zanu (PF) party was keen to pass the proposed amendments that would forbid private organisations from conducting voter education, ban the pre-emptive announcement of election results, and also deny voting rights to millions of Zimbabweans abroad.

Nelson Chamisa, a member of parliament for the MDC, said the proposed laws had been sharply criticised during internal party debate last week.

''There was an outcry. We told them (government) to go and reconsider the bill,'' Chamisa told The Zimbabwean.

The amendments also propose that election results should be announced within five days of voting only by the chief elections officer not the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairman, Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe. The Chief Elections Officer is the head of the ZEC secretariat, which the MDC said is "a rathole for CIO officers".

The current ZEC Chief Elections Officer is Lovemore Chipunza Sekeramayi, a well-known CIO operative. Zanu (PF) wants Sekeramayi, who will be responsible to the ZEC for the execution of electoral operation, to announce the results.

The MDC says the ZEC chairman, Mutambanengwe, a consensus candidate agreed to by President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai, must announce the results.

The Bill also proposes a polling-station based voters roll.

The public were this week giving their input to the bill before it goes to parliament, where the MDC has already stated that it will throw out the bill in its present form. Justice and legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa, who drafted the Bill, said if the reforms are rejected, then he will withdraw the bill and Zimbabwe will go to a fresh poll with the outdated electoral Act.

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