Zanu PF seen eyeing fresh polls

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe might be forced to hold early elections if a constitutional bill creating a power-sharing government with the opposition fails in parliament, state media reported on Saturday

President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980 to the opposition MDC, whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat the veteran leader in a March presidential poll but fell short of the necessary votes to avoid a run-off.

Mugabe won the second round after Tsvangirai pulled out, citing violence, but the vote was widely condemned. The 84-year-old leader is under Western pressure to step down following a cholera outbreak that has killed hundreds.

A power-sharing pact signed by Mugabe and Tsvangirai on September 15 has so far failed to materialize due to a dispute over key ministries and constitutional changes creating the prime minister’s post for Tsvangirai has yet to be passed.

Zimbabwe’s Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the state-run Herald newspaper the constitutional bill would be published on Saturday and brought to parliament after 30 days of scrutiny by the public.

"If no support is forthcoming, it means that (the constitutional) amendment number 19 bill will be a dead matter," Chinamasa said.

"In the event that the collaboration that we envisage (to pass the bill) is not forthcoming, then that will necessitate fresh harmonized elections at some point in time."

Chinamasa said the constitutional amendment would need the support of the opposition as no single party had the two-thirds parliamentary majority required to pass the bill.

Tsvangirai’s MDC controls 100 seats in the 210-member lower house of parliament, while ZANU-PF won 99 seats. The balance is held by a smaller faction of the MDC, led by Arthur Mutambara.

All the parties approved a constitutional draft during talks last month in South Africa.

Tsvangirai has refused to join the unity government, saying Mugabe and ZANU-PF wanted to make the MDC a junior partner in the government.

Analysts say the power-sharing agreement presents the best hope for reversing Zimbabwe’s economic ruin, shown by the highest inflation rate in the world, above 231 million percent, and acute food and foreign currency shortages.

Zimbabwe is also battling a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 800 people and infected over 16,700.