HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe urged lawmakers Tuesday to move "frantically and with haste" to finalize a new constitution so elections can be held to end a shaky coalition with the nation's former opposition party.
Mugabe, opening the last schedule of sittings of the Parliament in Harare before its five-year term expires next year, said he wants legislative business wound up so that fresh elections he proposed in March can bring closure to the coalition formed after the last disputed and violent polls in 2008.
Reforms to the constitution demanded in the power sharing deal brokered by regional leaders needed to be urgently completed, he said. And if outstanding disputes between the parties were not resolved, the coalition's leaders "will take appropriate steps" to break any deadlock, Mugabe said. He did not elaborate.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF party has proposed amendments to the new 150-page draft constitution that would restore some of the powers traditionally held by Mugabe and his party since independence in 1980.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's former opposition party opposes changes to the draft and has called on its supporters to vote 'Yes' in a referendum that the organizing panel of lawmakers has proposed for January.
Mugabe told lawmakers Tuesday power sharing with Tsvangirai had suffered what he called faltering starts and stops from the outset.
But in the end, despite "the mischievous external hand" of Zimbabwe's detractors in Western countries, the coalition had worked together to craft a new constitution and move toward new polls to end power sharing that has outlived its useful lifespan, Mugabe said.
The annual opening of the Parliament is a formal state ceremony with military parades and a fly by of Chinese-built Zimbabwe air force fighter jets. Judges attend in courtroom attire of white wigs and scarlet robes. Mugabe arrived as usual Tuesday in a vintage British Bentley limousine used by previous British governors of the former colony. Police mounted on horseback and wearing full ceremonial uniforms and colonial-style pith helmets escorted the limousine downtown.
In the ceremony broadcast nationwide on state television, Mugabe repeated recent calls for peaceful campaigning for the referendum and parliamentary and presidential polls to follow. Mugabe's party in the past has been blamed for most election violence.
"Irrespective of our political differences, let's shun violence in all its manifestations as we look forward to our national elections," Mugabe said.