Zim set to endorse new constitution

2013-03-15 17:42
A man reads a copy of Zimbabwes draft constitution. (Picture: AFP)

A man reads a copy of Zimbabwes draft constitution. (Picture: AFP)

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Harare - Zimbabwe's political leaders are making their final pitch to voters on Friday, on the eve of a constitutional referendum that would guarantee democracy in future elections in the crisis-weary country.

If approved, the new supreme law will also clip many of the presidential powers that veteran leader Robert Mugabe has enjoyed for decades.

The constitution looks poised to be easily adopted, laying the groundwork for watershed general elections that would end an often acrimonious power-sharing deal between Mugabe and his nemesis Morgan Tsvangirai.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai has been criss-crossing the southern African nation to drum up support for the text, which took some three years to compile, in what some saw as an extremely difficult environment.

He was Friday due to talk to church leaders.

His 89-year old rival Mugabe has left party officials to run his low-key campaign, which is also in favour of the law.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has highlighted constitutional clauses guaranteeing protection against all forms of violence, and free and fair voting.

MDC supporters have been on the receiving end of violence blamed on activists of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).

They have also lauded a provision that obliges police and the military to be apolitical, raising the hopes of victims of past political violence at the hands of the security forces.

"I'm hoping this new constitution will bring about change, especially in the police force. The police used to behave as if they were Zanu-PF youth activists," said 31-year-old Tendai Maritinyu, who bears scars of a 2006 beating all over his body.

Maritinyu was also assaulted in 2010 during constitutional consultative meetings that turned violent in Harare's oldest township, Mbare. He had to flee his home to a safe house in a different part of the city.


But others are sceptical that the adoption of the constitution alone can really be a reason to celebrate, since laws are not always respected in a country where security forces have impunity.

"It has been quiet so far because we are all agreeing to vote 'yes'. But what will happen after the referendum is our greatest fear. We are not settled because after the referendum, things might hot up," said John Munikwa, 38, a father of four who also is a victim of past violence.

Meanwhile Mugabe's Zanu-PF has focused on the "irreversibility of the land reform" campaign and "economic empowerment opportunities" among the reasons for pushing for a 'yes' vote.

With the main political rivals pressing for the adoption of the text, the vote is likely to take place relatively peacefully.

The National Constitutional Assembly, a non-governmental grouping, wants to see the new constitution rejected, arguing that the law if anything grants Mugabe more unfettered powers than before.

Its bid to have the vote on the constitution postponed fell apart when the Supreme Court this week upheld an earlier lower court decision.

The basic law puts improvements in human rights to the fore, with freedom of the press and gender equality. It also guarantees free, fair and regular elections, and for citizens to freely make political choices.

But observers fear that the there will not be sufficient time to apply all the necessary reforms to ensure that the political environment is more healthy before the next general elections.

Authorities have targeted pro-democracy non-governmental organisations in the run-up to Saturday's vote, arresting their leaders and seizing equipment.

Read more on:    mdc  |  zanu-pf  |  morgan tsvangirai  |  robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa

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