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Zimbabweeans Approve New Constitution in Referendum

Zimbabweans Approve New Constitution to Set Up Fresh Elections
People check elections results outside a polling station in Mbare, Zimbabwe. Photographer: Alexander Joe/AFP via Getty Images

March 19 (Bloomberg) -- Zimbabweans approved a new constitution to set up fresh elections later this year that will pit President Robert Mugabe against his longtime rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The constitution was passed with 3.08 million votes in favor and 179,489 against in the March 16 referendum, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said today in the capital, Harare. There were 56,627 spoiled ballots. Both Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change called for a yes vote.

The vote was a pre-requisite for presidential elections 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. SADC and the U.S. called the referendum peaceful.

“Our conduct in the next election must show that we truly believe in constitutionalism,” Tsvangirai said in an e-mailed statement today. “It can only be a new, progressive and democratic charter to the extent that we comply with it and chart the new era of respect for human dignity and human rights that it enshrines.”

Mugabe and Tsvangirai, 61, have shared power in a coalition government since 2009. Zimbabwe holds the world’s biggest platinum and chrome deposits after South Africa and also has reserves of coal, diamonds and gold.

Constitutional Restrictions

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.

Provisions on land ownership in the new constitution mean white-run commercial farms seized since 2000 won’t be returned to their former owners.

Mugabe, 89, who’s ruled the southern African nation since independence from the U.K. 33 years ago, isn’t barred from contesting elections because the presidential term limits aren’t retroactive.

“We can be happy as Zimbabweans that we’ve adopted this draft,” Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga, an MDC member said in an interview. The government hopes “to legalize this document in two or three weeks’ time.”

Human Rights

Western nations and international human-rights groups have accused Mugabe of rigging elections since 2000 and brutalizing his opponents to cling to power.

“People voted as they were told to vote by the political parties,” Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a civic group that campaigned against the constitution, said in a phone interview from Harare today. “Nine-five percent of the people haven’t read the constitution, so this wasn’t a genuine referendum.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Godfrey Marawanyika in Johannesburg at gmarawanyika@bloomberg.net; Brian Latham in Johannesburg at blatham@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net

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