Zimbabwe's parliament opens a new session this week to debate radical plans to nationalize foreign firms and a law empowering the house to name President Robert Mugabe's likely successor without a national vote.

Mugabe, the southern African state's sole ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, will on Tuesday officially open the last session of the House of Assembly and the upper Senate ahead of general polls due by next March.

Political analysts say the proposed legislation before the chambers, including the constitutional bill seeking to combine parliamentary and presidential elections and the economic empowerment bill, could increase uncertainties about Zimbabwe's future.

On the economic side, we are looking at a government that is, in word and in deed, continuing with radical policies, which in respect of the farm seizures, badly hurt the economy, said Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.

The nationalization of foreign firms may have a similar impact if it is handled as badly as the land redistribution program, he added.

Masunungure said the Constitutional Amendment Bill consolidating the electoral calendar, with clauses giving parliament power to elect a new president if a vacancy occurred between elections, could give Mugabe an avenue to retire after the 2008 polls with room to influence who will succeed him.

I know that the concept of a dignified exit for Mugabe has been dismissed by some people, and that there those who believe he wants to hang onto power for life, but I think Mugabe also knows that his future depends on creating enough space to maneuver, he said.

To me that bill gives him space for some exit, but then politics is not a clinical game with predictable results.


Mugabe, 83, is seeking re-election in 2008 and analysts say he is sure to use the empowerment law to enrich supporters and consolidate ranks before those elections.

Leading economic consultant John Robertson said the black economic empowerment and a nationalization drive, which the government hopes will start October, would further damage an economy already hit by Mugabe's other controversial policies.

Mugabe plans to transfer control of all companies, including foreign banks and some mining operations, to locals under the black empowerment bill.

Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party dominates parliament and is expected to pass the bill before September.

This is going to be another exercise in cronyism, grabbing companies or shares and giving them to the party faithful, he said.

The country needs policies that will attract more foreign investment, and all that is happening at the moment is such that it's making the situation worse, Robertson said.

Analysts say Mugabe's government has compounded the Zimbabwe economic crisis in the last three weeks with a price blitz that has led to empty shop shelves in a country which suffers from the world's highest inflation rate.

Mugabe ordered consumer prices slashed by half last month after the cost of some foodstuffs had risen threefold, further squeezing urban workers living with severe water and power cuts, burst sewer pipes and a suffocating political environment.

Once the breadbasket of the region, Zimbabwe has endured a punishing recession that has squeezed consumers with rocketing inflation, left four out of five people without jobs and resulted in shortages of foreign currency, food and fuel.

Mugabe says the economy has been sabotaged by his Western foes and branded company executives serpents drafted by former colonial power Britain to help topple him by raising prices, cutting production and stashing foreign earnings abroad.