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Dispute settled, Zimbabwe returns to preparing constitution

From Columbus S. Mavhunga, For CNN
  • Zimbabwe is being governed by a power-sharing deal between two parties
  • The two parties are now preparing a constitution
  • A referendum on the new constitution is being targeted for September
  • The two parties had disagreed over how to weigh public comments

(CNN) -- Zimbabwe's efforts to write a new constitution resumed Saturday after the two parties now sharing power reached an agreement on how to weigh comments gathered from the public, officials said.

Earlier in the week, the constitution process came to a standstill after the power-sharing leaders became divided over what methodologies to use in analyzing public comments collected last year.

"We have resumed work after we found some common ground, and the process is back on track. We are optimistic that it remains flowing," said Douglas Mwonzora, spokesman for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The constitution-making process reached a stalemate when the prime minister's party accused President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF of trying to game the process.

Zanu PF preferred a quantitative method as opposed to a qualitative method in weighing the public comments.

The MDC balked, saying the Zanu PF proposal would mean rural areas would prevail over cities because of a numerical advantage.

Munyaradzi-Paul Mangwana, an appointee of Mugabe's Zanu PF on the constitution committee, said the two parties agreed that both methods would be used in the data analysis.

"We hope we will not encounter more hiccups," he said.

Zimbabweans hope the new constitution will guarantee human rights, strengthen the role of parliament, and curtail the president's powers, as well as guaranteeing civil, political and media freedoms. The writing of the constitution is part of the requirements of the power-sharing deal that Mugabe and Tsvangirai brokered in 2008.

The new constitution will replace the current Lancaster House Constitution written in 1979 before the country's independence from Britain.

The charter has been amended 19 times since independence in 1980, and critics contend that most of the amendments have been to further entrench Mugabe and his party's hold on power.

The government-appointed constitutional committee is now targeting September for a referendum on the draft constitution. That referendum had been initially set for last November.

Mugabe, a guerrilla leader who was hailed as a hero of Zimbabwe's freedom struggle when he came to power three decades ago, has established himself over the years as one of Africa's most ruthless dictators. However, his power eventually weakened, evidenced in the 2008 election.

Mugabe's rival, Tsvangirai, won that vote but Mugabe refused to cede power. He agreed to form a unity government with Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara after African regional leaders refused to recognize the legitimacy of a runoff.

The coalition government, however, has been marred by serious disagreements between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Many believe that an election is the only solution, and Western powers have pressured the country to create conditions for a democratic vote.

CNN's Michael Martinez contributed to this report.