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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Zimbabwe diaspora 'may get vote'
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe - 18/07/2007
Analysts say President Mugabe wants to choose his successor
Zimbabwe's government and opposition have reportedly agreed ground-breaking changes for next year's elections.

Sources at the talks mediated by South Africa say that everyone born in the country may be allowed to vote.

If confirmed, this would grant suffrage to the huge Zimbabwean diaspora - believed to be as many as four million.

The talks are also said to have agreed that the Electoral Commission (ZEC) in charge of next year's planned elections should be truly independent.

Sources within the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have also told the BBC that the notorious public order act - which has been used by President Mugabe's government to suppress the opposition - will be abolished.

But the BBC's Southern Africa correspondent Peter Biles says reports of a vote for the diaspora and an independent ZEC should be treated with caution given the news blackout applied by the South Africans to the entire process.

There has also been no public comment on the reported deal from the Zimbabwean government.

Last week, the MDC voted with the ruling Zanu-PF to pass an amendment to the constitution, because of the progress it said had been made at the talks.

Zimbabwe is in economic crisis, with unemployment estimated at 80% and shortages of many basic commodities.

End of hated act?

Details of the agreement reached last week at the Pretoria talks have been largely confirmed by the London based newsletter, Africa Confidential.

Morgan Tsvangirai
The MDC surprised many by voting with Zanu-PF last week

The newsletter says that South African President Thabo Mbeki himself told MDC faction leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara that Zanu-PF was prepared to amend radically the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

The POSA amendment would permit all parties to hold public rallies without prior notification to the police and to canvass support without obstruction from the security forces.

However a senior MDC official has told BBC News that the public order act had not yet been discussed, and no agreement had been reached on letting the diaspora vote.

However, South Africa's Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad could not, or would not, confirm to journalists that President Mbeki had such a meeting with the MDC leaders.

The governing party is also said to be willing to work with the MDC to draw up a new electoral law, which would allow parliament instead of the president to nominate members to the Electoral Commission.

The constitutional amendment which was passed last week by MPs, the 18th Amendment, is said to increase the number of MPs in the Assembly from 150 to 210 seats, and in the Senate from 60 to 93 seats.

Harare shoppers in an almost empty supermarket (file picture)
Zimbabwe's economy is in ruin, with severe shortages of food and fuel

Additionally, it abolishes the president's power to appoint MPs who will all be elected under the new rules.

The president will retain the power to appoint provincial governors and influence over the appointment of chiefs to the Senate, but the Assembly will have the power to overrule the Senate.

According to Africa Confidential, under the 18th Amendment, the Delimitation Commission, which has redrawn constituency boundaries to the advantage of Zanu-PF, will be abolished and its work taken over by the independent electoral commission.

The changes will also allow parliament to choose the next president, should the incumbent die or be incapacitated.






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