Zimbabwe’s countdown to a new constitution

HARARE – Today is the D-Day in the countdown to a crucial referendum on a proposed new constitution, a key milestone in this country’s 2008 power sharing pact.
Zimbabwe’s voters are preparing for today’s consitutional referendum. Net photo.
Zimbabwe’s voters are preparing for today’s consitutional referendum. Net photo.

HARARE – Today is the D-Day in the countdown to a crucial referendum on a proposed new constitution, a key milestone in this country’s 2008 power sharing pact.

As Zimbabwe hurtles towards today’s referendum, all ruling parties are in unison, rallying their supporters to vote “yes”.

The proposed constitution largely retains Zimbabwe’s imperial presidential powers, but does devolve more power to local government, strengthens the role of parliament, expands civil liberties and elevates the status of women.

Since the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1980, Zimbabwe has been ruled by a “ceasefire document” negotiated at London’s Lancaster House in 1979 to end an armed liberation struggle that ended white minority rule and ushered in black majority rule.

The constitution, amended 19 times, has exacerbated divisions and steadily helped turn the country into one of the most corrupt countries in southern Africa.

The 2012 Transparency International corruption perception index (CPI) ranked Zimbabwe 163 of 176 countries worldwide.

Zimbabweans will vote on an entirely new constitution that seeks to address the defective political system that exploded after the disputed 2008 presidential election. The nation’s corrupt and dysfunctional politics was deemed to be at the root of the crisis.

President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC have unfurled nationwide campaigns imploring their supporters to seize this moment and usher in “a second republic”.

Zimbabweans were given only one month to study the draft, an issue unsuccessfully challenged by civic groups. The National Constitutional Assembly - a broad alliance of opposition parties, church groups, trade unions and civic organisations - are urging voters to sink the draft.

But analysts predict these efforts are doomed to fail, and that the constitution will likely pass by a comfortable, though not overwhelming, margin. Many Zimbabweans vote along political lines, and all ruling parties are backing a yes vote.

While elections in Zimbabwe tend to bring out the worst - elections over the past decade have been marked by a cycle of politically driven violence that has yet to stop - yet this election is somewhat different, with leaders of all parties exhorting their supporters to desist from violence. Many here hope that this will be the vote that ends that cycle for good.

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