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Zimbabwe Party Heads to Meet Jan. 17 Over Constitution Deadlock

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will meet Jan. 17 to assess constitutional-reform negotiations being held by their political parties.

Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change have been locked in debate about a new constitution since February 2009. The Southern African Development Community ordered Zimbabwe’s political parties, including a smaller MDC faction led by Welshman Ncube, to agree on the charter before national elections can be held. Mugabe has said he wants them this year.

“The political leaders will be meeting on Thursday to receive a report from the committee” negotiating the constitution, Tsvangirai said today in an e-mailed response to questions.

SADC, led by South African President Jacob Zuma, has overseen the talks since it determined a 2008 election was marred by violence and ordered a power-sharing government and a new charter as a deal to end the election dispute. That year, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate peaked at 500 billion percent, according to the IMF.

Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe’s finance minister and secretary general of Tsvangirai’s MDC party, said that “90 percent of the new constitution is in the bag and settled.”

“There are outstanding points relating to security-sector reforms, freedom of the press, citizenship rights and human rights-related issues that aren’t settled,” Biti said in a Jan. 11 interview in London. Under Zimbabwe’s existing constitution, elections must be held before Oct. 29, he said.

The SADC-brokered power-sharing agreement between the MDC and Zanu-PF ended a “lost decade,” Biti said.

“Zimbabwe’s economy, which had been shrinking in the late 90s, slumped from $8.7 billion in 1996 to $3.8 billion in 2008,” Biti said.

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