Zimbabwe constitution hearings to go ahead: parties

Zimbabwe’s new unity government, formed by Mugabe and rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai last February, had appeared headed for a clash after lawmakers from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party indicated they would seek to delay the hearings, citing lack of preparedness.

A new constitution was a key demand by Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) during negotiations leading to the formation of the power-sharing government.

The MDC has accused Mugabe and ZANU-PF of failing to fully implement the political agreement and the move to delay constitutional reforms could further upset the stability of the unity government.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed on an 18-month timetable for constitutional reforms, with a referendum on the new constitution expected to be held in a little over a year’s time.

MDC lawmaker Douglas Mwonzora, joint chairperson of a 25-member parliamentary committee steering the constitutional reform process, told a news conference that all parties in the unity government had agreed to start public hearings in all the 10 provinces between June 24 and June 27.

That would lead to a national conference on constitutional reforms from July 9 to July 12, Mwonzora said.

"The days we have announced are by consensus. We all agreed that they are final," he said. 

The ZANU-PF chief whip, Joram Gumbo, said his party’s earlier concerns on the process had been misunderstood.

"To clear the air, all we said is that ZANU-PF MPs were requesting, if possible, for the co-chairpersons to postpone the hearings," Gumbo said.

"We did not try to stall the process."

The state-controlled Herald newspaper had on Friday reported that ZANU-PF MPs would seek to postpone provincial hearings.

The unity government, which says it needs up to $10 billion to fix an economy battered by hyperinflation, has been struggling to get aid, especially from Western donors who have demanded broad economic and political reforms before providing support.

Tsvangirai is currently on a trip to Europe and the United States seeking to lure Western donors. He is expected to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Friday to drum up support for the unity government