ZIMBABWE’s draft constitution deal reached last month by President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube could dominate proceedings in Parliament, which opens on Tuesday for its first session this year.

Legislators are widely expected to push through the compromise draft constitution adopted by the three principals, in an effort to edge the country closer to holding elections and end the four-year-old power-sharing government.

There are strong indications a referendum will be held either at the end of next month or in early April. A clash, however, looms between Mr Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) over dual citizenship, for which the draft constitution does not make provision.

The draft recognises only Zimbabwean citizenship by birth, descent and registration. Zanu (PF) remains opposed to dual citizenship — fearful of the large numbers of diaspora-based Zimbabweans who would be constitutionally allowed to vote in the next election.

"There is no dual citizenship, and there will be no diaspora vote, the country does not have the funding for it," Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa said. About 2-million Zimbabweans are estimated to be living in South Africa, with many having moved to the neighbouring country between 2000 and 2008 at the start of the land invasions and again at the height of economic decline. Those registered will have to return to Zimbabwe to vote.

Mr Chinamasa’s statements contradict those of Mr Tsvangirai who last month in Davos, Switzerland, insisted that the draft document would have a provision for dual citizenship. The MDC enjoys widespread support in Zimbabwe’s diaspora population and hopes to cash in this support for votes in the looming polls.

The failure to address dual citizenship, among other shortcomings in the draft document, has seen civic society group, the National Constitutional Assembly begin mobilising members to cast a "no vote" in the referendum.

Human Rights Watch warned last week that most Zimbabweans abroad could not return to vote for legal or financial reasons. It also said Zanu (PF) officials and members of the military were allowed to vote abroad, while others were not.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute chairman Rashweat Mukundu said the country had been "led down a garden path" and undertaken a costly $50m constitutional exercise, only for Zanu (PF) to emerge the ultimate victor of the process.