Sat, Nov 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Critics say new law may allow Mugabe to choose successor

AP , HARARE AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has signed a constitutional amendment critics say gives the autocratic leader even more power.

The new law that state media said Mugabe had signed gives parliament, dominated by Mugabe's ruling party, the power to elect a successor should the 83-year-old Mugabe retire or die before his term in office ends.

The old Constitution had allowed for a vice president to take over day-to-day running of the government ahead of new presidential polls within 90 days of Mugabe's departure.

The new law also allows for parliamentary elections to be brought forward by two years so they can be held at the same time as presidential polls scheduled in March.

Mugabe has indicated he will stand for re-election. He has been in power since 1980 independence elections followed a seven-year guerrilla war to end white-minority rule.

Critics say Mugabe could use the legislation to maneuver a favored successor into position.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change unexpectedly voted for the bill when it was passed by parliament in September, saying they were backing the changes as a "confidence-building measure."

The chief secretary to the president and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, announced on Thursday in a government gazette that Mugabe had signed the bill into law, the official Herald newspaper said.

HIV and AIDS

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has registered a 2.5 percent decline in HIV infection rates, and the number of AIDS deaths also is dropping, its government said on Thursday, but analysts were skeptical given the lack of medical care in the country in crisis.

Zimbabwe's Ministry of Health said the HIV rate dropped from 18.1 percent in people aged 15 to 49 years last year to 15.6 percent this year.

AIDS deaths also have decreased, down to 2,214 a week from around 2,500 a week, according to the new statistics.

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