[JURIST] The Zimbabwean parliament began debate Tuesday on a draft constitutional amendment bill that could essentially give Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] the authority to appoint his successor. The changes would allow the parliament to appoint a new president should the incumbent step down before the end of his term; there is speculation that Mugabe will step down before elections are held so that his ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) [Wikipedia backgrounder], would be able to select the next president. ZANU-PF currently enjoys the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority for amending the Zimbabwean constitution [PDF text].
In June, the Zimbabwean government published [JURIST report] the bill to amend the constitution, which proposes the simultaneous election of the president and both houses of the legislature. Critics allege that the reforms are intended to weaken the opposition. The proposed amendments would end the existing assembly's term two years early in 2008, reduce the president's term from six years to five, and increase the number of legislators in the House of Assembly from 150 to 210 and the Senate from 66 to 84. In addition, the number of House of Assembly members appointed by the president would decrease from 30 to 10, but the number of senators appointed by the president would go from 16 to 34. The main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change [party website], said Tuesday that it has reached a deal with ZANU-PF and would not try to block the amendments. BBC News has more. Reuters has additional coverage.