By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's parliament has been presented with a long-awaited draft constitution, opening the way for a referendum followed by elections this year in the impoverished southern African country.
The charter, which would restrict presidential powers, has taken more than three years to produce due to bickering between President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the rival MDC.
The draft must become law to allow elections to take place under a power-sharing deal between Mugabe's party and rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
It was presented to parliament on Wednesday and Douglas Mwonzora, a leader of the parliamentary committee that produced the document, said it was not up for debate.
"This is a people's constitution and must go as quickly as possible to the people," Mwonzora said.
Disputed polls led to widespread violence in 2008.
Under the draft constitution, the president will be required to choose members of parliament to join a cabinet that would need to give their majority backing to any decrees limiting civil liberties.
The current constitution allows a president to enforce decrees for up to six months.
The president would be limited to two five-year terms, starting from the next election. This will not be applied retrospectively, so the 88-year-old Mugabe - in power since independence from Britain in 1980 - could technically rule for another two terms.
Mugabe will contest the next election despite questions over his advanced age and concerns over his health.
He will face a stiff challenge from the MDC, which is promising to revive an economy that shrank by an estimated 40 percent from 2000 to 2010 due largely to Mugabe's seizure of white-owned commercial farms.
The draft constitution is backed by MDC and ZANU-PF, so it is set to be debated and approved by the two-thirds majority required for it to become law in parliament after a national referendum between March and April.
Funding problems that have dogged the writing of the new constitution could delay the referendum and Finance Minister Tendai Biti said he has approached donors for help.
Although the economy has recovered under the unity government, most foreign donors have withheld money, pressing for wider political and economic reforms.
The draft retains a ban on same-sex marriage. It also keeps the death penalty, but only for "murder committed in aggravating circumstances" and makes exceptions for women and people younger than 21 or older than 70.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz/Ruth Pitchford)
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