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Zimbabweans vote in favor of new constitution

Source : AP
Last Updated: Tue, Mar 19, 2013 17:45 hrs

Zimbabwe's electoral body said Tuesday that 94.5 percent of voters cast a ballot in favor of a referendum on a new constitution that calls for a strengthening of human rights and a curb on presidential powers after a decade of political and economic turmoil in the southern African nation.

A new constitution was a key demand of regional mediators who forged a shaky and acrimonious coalition between Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and the former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, after the last violent and disputed national polls in 2008.

All main political parties had called for a "Yes" vote in the referendum.

Judge Rita Makarau, head of the state electoral commission, said Tuesday that just over 3 million Zimbabweans voted for the draft constitution and 170,489 voted against. Spoiled ballot papers were not factored in to the final results of votes cast by less than 50 percent of those eligible to vote in the referendum.

The 170-page draft constitution has now to be submitted to the Zimbabwe parliament for approval, a procedural formality, before President Mugabe is asked to sign it into law.

The draft limits the future presidential office to two five-year terms, a clause that is not retrospective. Mugabe, 89, who led the nation to independence in 1980, can rule for another two terms if his party wins upcoming five-yearly parliamentary and presidential polls.

The proposed constitution sets up the first Constitutional Court on citizens' grievances and a Peace and Reconciliation Commission to investigate political violence and human rights abuses blamed mainly on Mugabe's ZANU-PF party over the past decade of troubled polling and alleged vote-rigging.

Regional observers of Saturday's referendum said voting was free of violence except for minor scuffles between rival youth groups. The outcome of voting was seen as "credible" and reflecting the free will of electors.

But independent local monitoring groups reported that Mugabe party loyalists had taken down the names of voters emerging from some polling stations, a possible ploy used to threaten them in the crucial full scale elections.

In Zimbabwe's 2005 general elections, 2.7 million people voted. In the disputed 2008 elections amid violence, 2.4 million of 5.6 million people registered to vote actually cast their ballots.

In Saturday's referendum, all Zimbabwean adult citizens holding valid national identity documents, and not necessarily on the voter's register, were entitled to vote. Zimbabwe has a population estimated at 13 million.

Human rights groups say the new constitution does not immediately scrap sweeping media and security laws enforced by state institutions loyal to Mugabe, and that can only be done by a the next elected parliament.

The 1980 independence constitution includes a bill of rights that for a more than a decade has not been honored mainly by Mugabe loyalists and the police and military, rights group say.

The independent Research and Advocacy Unit said in its latest bulletin that reforms proposed in the new constitution "will clearly take a much more energetic parliament than the one we have currently" if they are to be implemented. The group said, "Constitutions are not the panacea for all ills."




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