Zimbabweans are set to endorse a new constitution after political rivals Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai campaigned for a yes vote, paving the way for elections to take place later this year.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission began counting ballots from yesterday’s constitutional referendum, with final results expected within five days. The vote is a pre-requisite for presidential elections to proceed in line with an agreement brokered by the 15-nation Southern African Development Community following disputed polls in 2008 that international observers said were marred by violence.
“The yes vote is going to carry the day because the constitution reflects on the values and gains of Zimbabwe since independence,” Charity Manyeruke, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said in a phone interview.
The new constitution restricts the president to two five-year terms and requires a two-thirds vote by members of parliament to approve a state of emergency. It also guarantees Zimbabweans freedom from torture or degrading treatment and bans detention without trial, while security forces are barred from being members of a political party or group.
Mugabe, 89, who’s ruled the southern African nation since independence from the U.K. 33 years ago, isn’t barred from contesting elections as the presidential term limits aren’t retroactive. Western nations and international human-rights groups have accused Mugabe of rigging elections since 2000 and brutalizing his opponents to cling to power.
“We shall not brook with anyone who interferes in our country and those who want to encroach in our country,” Mugabe said yesterday after voting at Mhofu primary school in Highfield, a suburb in the capital, Harare. “We have a right to defend ourselves. We shall not brook with those people who want to steal our country, our natural resources, minerals.”
Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Tsvangirai, 61, have shared power in a coalition government since 2009.
The National Constitutional Assembly, a pro-democracy group, has urged voters to reject the charter, saying it still concentrates too much power in the presidency. The MDC said there were some instances of violence against its members yesterday, including nine supporters assaulted in Mbare, a township in Harare, for putting up posters.
Mugabe’s program of land seizures from white farmers in 2000 plunged the economy into a decade-long recession, slashing exports of tobacco, once Zimbabwe’s biggest export, and turning the country into an importer of its staple food, corn.
Since then, he has targeted mining companies in a nation that holds the world’s second-biggest platinum and chrome deposits after South Africa and also has reserves of coal, diamonds and gold. The government is forcing Johannesburg-based Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. to cede 51 percent of its unit, Zimplats Holdings Ltd., to the state and black Zimbabweans under an indigenization law passed in 2007.
Provisions on land ownership in the new constitution mean white-run commercial farms won’t be returned to their former owners.
“I voted for a yes to support what is taking place in our country and for the future of our country,” Ngonidzashe Mahove, a 33-year-old security guard, said in an interview yesterday at a voting station in Mbare. “This is a momentous occasion for myself and the future.”