Zim: New constitution hearings
Harare - Zimbabwe began hearings on Wednesday on a new constitution to comply with a power-sharing deal and usher in elections.
President Robert Mugabe formed a unity government in February with arch-foe Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, after disputed elections last year and agreed to write a new constitution within 18 months.
Zimbabweans hope a new charter, replacing one inked in 1979, before independence from Britain, will strengthen the role of parliament and whittle down the president's powers, and guarantee civil liberties and political and media freedoms.
If the constitution is adopted after a referendum, elections could follow but Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) may agree to defer the vote to a later date.
'They were not prepared'
The constitutional process had appeared to be derailing after ZANU-PF legislators sought to delay hearings because they said they were not prepared.
But on Wednesday members of parliament held separate meetings with civic society groups, churches and political parties in the country's 10 provinces to identify delegates who would attend a major conference next month.
"The constitution-making train is leaving station and I want you to be on board," Douglas Mwonzora, who co-chairs a parliamentary select committee co-ordinating the process, told hundreds of delegates attending a hearing in Harare.
Up to 5 000 delegates will attend a national stakeholders' conference in the capital in July to choose members for various committees that will travel around the country soliciting people's views on the constitution.
Civic groups want to ensure politicians do not have an undue influence on the process to push their own agenda at the expense of the people.
Mwonzora said all draft documents, including those produced by churches, the MDC and lobby group National Constitutional Assembly would all be considered.
2007 draft agreement
ZANU-PF has requested that a draft agreed between it and the MDC in 2007 be used as the discussion document.
The draft was never used because ZANU-PF and MDC were bitterly divided on the timing of its adoption. Mugabe had sought to have it adopted after last year's elections while the MDC had wanted it used before those elections.
The official Herald said in an editorial that using the 2007 draft would save money.
Zimbabwe's new administration has struggled to get aid from sceptical Western donors who are pressing for more political and economic reforms. Harare says it needs up to $10bn to fix an economy shattered by a decade of recession.
"The constitution making process is taking place in an environment of acute resource constraints," Lovemore Moyo, speaker of parliament, told foreign diplomats.
"We call upon you ... to lend your support to this process."