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By Dumisani Muleya

CONTROVERSY surrounds the ruling Zanu PF’s attempt to re-establish a “stop-gap” Senate which President Robert Mugabe wants to use to expedite his succession plans.

Government sources say Mugabe is trying to railroad the Senate proposal to accommodate short-term interests and mobilise support for his succession initiative that could be met with determined resistance in Zanu PF structures.

Official documents in the Zimbabwe Independent’s possession show that plans have been finalised for a Senate of 65 members. But it will last for only five years.

A confidential document presented to the Zanu PF central committee on Friday by Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa — who is currently working on a raft of amendments to the constitution to facilitate Mugabe’s succession — reveals the Upper House will only be in place between 2005 and 2010.

“The proposal to introduce a Senate at this hour, at this juncture, should correctly be regarded as a stop-gap measure for the period 2005 and 2010,” Chinamasa says in his document.

“The structure and composition of the Senate will again be reconsidered in a more holistic manner within the context of the more comprehensive constitutional proposals I shall propose later in the life of parliament.”

The document says the soon-to-be 10 administrative provinces will have five members each in the Senate elected from the constituencies delimited for that purpose.

There will be 10 chiefs, including the president and vice-president of the Council of Chiefs who will be relocated from the Lower House to the Upper House.

This means each province will have a chief in the Senate. Five of the remaining senators will be appointed by Mugabe, “representing special interest groups”.

The positions left by the president and vice-president of the Council of Chiefs in the National Assembly will be filled by Harare Metropolitan resident minister David Karimanzira and his Bulawayo counterpart, Cain Mathema, who will be elevated to governors. This means there will then be eight chiefs in the Lower House and 10 in the Upper House.

“The Senate will be presided over by a president and a deputy president... The deputy president of the Senate must be one of the 55 senators, that is to say, he/she must come from members of Senate who are not traditional chiefs,” the documents say.

“The president can be elected from outside the membership provided that he/she qualifies to be a member of Senate. Senators need to be at least 40 years.”

Official sources say Mugabe is racing against time to re-establish the Senate, abolished in 1990, to accommodate Small-Scale and Medium Enterprises Development minister Sithembiso Nyoni, appointed to her current position without a parliamentary seat. The constitution requires that all ministers be MPs.

Mugabe now has just over a month left to sort out Nyoni’s predicament because she can only remain a minister for three months without being an MP. Parliament, initially expected to open on June 28, will now be summoned on June 9 to work on Mugabe’s party-political agenda.

The Senate project is mired in further controversy. Sources said Zanu PF has been debating whether or not to use results of the disputed March general election to allocate seats in the Senate or call for a fresh election.

But fearing possible defeat, Zanu PF has now decided to use results of the last election. The problem with this plan, however, is that it does not give Zanu PF a two-thirds majority in the proposed Senate.

Zanu PF has also explored if it was possible to combine the Lower and Upper houses during voting on constitutional amendments, but again it discovered it would not command the necessary two-thirds majority. In the end it was decided to fast-track the constitutional changes before the Senate is revived.

“It was then resolved that all constitutional amendments should be pushed through parliament before Senate is established to avoid it blocking Zanu PF’s legislative agendas,” a source said. “If needs be Mugabe will have to appoint more senators to give his party a two-thirds majority.” - Zimbabwe Independent

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