South African Ruling Party Patterns Proposed Constitution after US Charter Calls for Two-House Legislature, Supreme Court, Bill of Rights

Article excerpt

SOUTH Africa's ruling National Party is set to build a nonracial alliance around a constitutional plan that is strikingly similar to the United States Constitution.

"We have come to accept that the rule of law is the ultimate authority of the state," Constitutional Development Minister Gerrit Viljoen told the Transvaal Congress of the National Party here over the weekend.

"We will follow the example of federal constitutions like the United States, in which the Supreme Court has the ultimate say," Mr. Viljoen said. "This sovereignty of the court is going to be a vital element in our checks and balances."

Transvaal's party was the last of the four provincial parties to endorse President Frederik de Klerk's suggestion that membership be opened to all races.

"Our party now stands on the moral high ground," he told about 1,500 delegates. "We can defend morally and ethically everything for which we stand."

Party officials said it was not intended to launch a recruitment drive among blacks, but rather to seek political alliances with like-minded people.

"There is a difference between a massive recruitment drive and opening the doors," said Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha. "We are not seeking to become the sole party."

Viljoen repeated his belief that an election coalition - in which the National Party formed an alliance with other parties, could allow it to emerge as the majority grouping to challenge the African National Congress (ANC).

Party officials say the possibility of an alliance with the ANC remained, but would depend largely on whether it was prepared to break with the South African Communist Party.

"Viljoen is already looking for the middle-ground votes which the National Party and the ANC will have to compete for in the founding election under the new constitution," says Mervyn Frost, a political science professor at Natal University.

Viljoen's remarks signal a government reassessment of the ANC as the key to forming a stable political center, says Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, an independent political analyst. "I sense a growing disillusionment on the part of government over whether the ANC can deliver its side of the deal," he says. Recruitment statistics show the ANC has been slow in signing-up members and is having problems making the transition from a liberation movement to a political party. Senior government officials have outlined a constitutional framework that breaks with race.

Viljoen told the party's Cape Congress two weeks ago that 12 principles should be entrenched in the constitution. These included a Bill of Rights, a free-market system, private ownership, protection against excessive taxation, management and professionalism of the security forces, the frequency of parliamentary elections, and the right of linguistic, cultural, and religious minorities to have their own schools.

Significantly, the party appears to have dropped its earlier demand for specific guarantees for the white minority - even on a temporary basis as was the case in neighboring Zimbabwe. …

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