HARARE, Feb 1 – Zimbabwe is preparing to table crucial constitutional amendments this week, paving the way for a unity government amid calls for international sanctions to be lifted to assist the stricken nation.
The parliament was expected to pass the amendments to allow the finishing touches to be put to a coalition government comprising President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), state newspaper the Sunday Mail reported.
African leaders pushed for sanctions to be lifted against Mugabe’s regime after the MDC agreed to join the government on Friday, almost a year since disputed polls plunged the country into crisis.
The African Union’s executive council called for "the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe to help ease the humanitarian situation in the country" in a resolution adopted ahead of a summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
"I think that everybody today should help Zimbabwe to rebuild its economy, because an agreement has been reached," AU chief Jean Ping said when asked about sanctions levied by the United States and European Union.
Zimbabwe’s Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said a bill containing the amendments would be tabled on Wednesday.
"SADC’s position is that we pass the bill by February 5," Chinamasa said, referring to the Southern African Development Community which brokered the agreement.
The bill will provide for the posts of prime minister and deputy prime ministers in the new unity government to be shared between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, and a smaller MDC offshoot.
At a summit last week, SADC issued a strict timetable for the formation of the unity government, which will see Tsvangirai sworn in as prime minister on February 11.
The deal will see a September 15 agreement to form a power-sharing government finally implemented after months of deadlock over allocating key ministries, including those of home affairs and defence.
Since disputed elections in March 2008, Zimbabwe’s shattered economy has nosedived, hampered by the world’s highest inflation rate — 231 million percent — and a cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 3,000 lives.
In Addis Ababa, the 53-nation AU asked members and partners "to solidly back the implementation of a comprehensive pact" to end the ruinous political and economic stalemate.
Ping said: "Imagine that you don’t help Zimbabwe, who will be blamed? Everybody is expecting that today, because Tsvangirai is going to lead the economy and everything, that the economy should recover. So if you don’t do that who will be blamed by the population?
"Today SADC told us they have agreed on a solution, the two parties have agreed on that solution," Ping said, adding: "In politics nothing can be forever. We hope this solution can be a lasting one."
South Africa on Saturday urged that sanctions be lifted immediately to help the country rebuild.