Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country for more than three decades, set March 16 as the date for a referendum on a new constitution, paving the way for elections needed to end a four-year impasse.
Mugabe, 88, made the announcement in the Government Gazette today. Last month he agreed on a draft of the constitution with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his main political rival.
An agreement brokered by the 15-nation Southern African Development Community in 2009 led to a coalition government between Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change. Under that pact a referendum on a new constitution must be held before elections can be called.
“I do, by this proclamation, appoint Saturday March 16, 2013 as the day on which the referendum will be held,” Mugabe said.
Negotiations on the constitution stalled over issues including dual citizenship, reform of the security forces and land rights. The impasse has hampered Zimbabwe’s economic recovery from a decade-long recession.
The MDC is “content” with the date, Nelson Chamisa, a party spokesman, said in a phone interview from Harare today. Calls to Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo weren’t answered.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai, 60, have fought a series of elections since 2000, all of which have been judged by observers including those from the European Union as having been marred by violence, mainly against Tsvangirai’s supporters, and electoral irregularities.
Zimbabwe’s next election must be held by the end of October, which is four months after the life of the current parliament ends, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said in January. The MDC wants the vote to be held in July, Biti, who is also secretary-general of the party, said at the time.
The MDC won a parliamentary ballot in 2008, then withdrew from a presidential vote, citing an increase in violence against its supporters by members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.