Zimbabwe to amend voting laws
Harare - Zimbabwe will speed up the release of election results and bar police interference in voting in future, a senior government minister said on Thursday, two years after President Robert Mugabe's disputed re-election.
Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing pact with his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai more than a year ago after a crisis over the 2008 national election that many local and foreign observers say was marred by violence and vote-rigging.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on Thursday that Zimbabwe's cabinet had agreed to amendments to the electoral law, and that Attorney-General Johannes Tomana would be drafting a bill to be debated by parliament in the coming months.
"The parties have agreed to amend the Electoral Act so that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is obliged to declare presidential election results not more than five days after the day of voting," he said in a statement.
The proposed amendments would also bar police officers - who were accused in the 2008 poll of abusing their power to help disabled or illiterate voters to cast their ballots - from "taking part or interfering with the electoral process beyond maintaining law and order".
Amendments would allow the recently established independent Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to warn election candidates, election agents or parties implicated in acts of political violence and to set up special courts to try such cases.
Zimbabwe's last electoral authority - which critics say was packed with Mugabe supporters - took more than five weeks to announce the results of a March 2008 presidential poll that gave Tsvangirai victory but not enough votes to assume power.
Tsvangirai boycotted a runoff poll in June 2008, citing serious violence against his supporters. Mugabe, Zimbabwe's ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, denies that he has hung on to power by force or vote rigging.
But under their power-sharing agreement, Zimbabwe's parties have agreed to implement some reforms before they call for a fresh election.
Two weeks ago, the rival political leaders launched a campaign to solicit public views on a new constitution, a long-delayed step towards a new general election and part of a drive to sort out a decade-old severe economic crisis.
Many Zimbabweans hope the new constitution, replacing one drafted in 1979 before independence from Britain, will strengthen the role of parliament, curtail the president's powers and guarantee civil, political and media reforms.
Zimbabwe's political reform process is running almost a year behind over constant squabbling in the unity government, and officials say the next general election is unlikely to be held before 2012.