20 March 2013
A new draft constitution that limits the presidential term and protects a wide range of individual rights has been approved by the vast majority of Zimbabwean voters, the country’s election body announced on Tuesday.
The passage of the draft, which still needs endorsement from Zimbabwe’s parliament, sets the stage for presidential elections slated for later this year.
Lovemore Sekeramyi, the country’s chief elections officer, told reporters in Harare on Tuesday that the draft was passed by over 3-million votes, with less than 180 000 people voting against it. The election body previously said there were about 6-million eligible voters in the country.
The Southern African Development Community observer mission, which led the largest international observer team for the referendum, said in a statement that in general the polling process was conducted in “a peaceful, transparent and smooth manner”.
“Although some of the concerns raised are pertinent, they are, nevertheless, not of such magnitude as to affect the credibility of the overall referendum,” the statement read.
The draft constitution is a major stepping stone for general elections set for late 2013. For the first time, it limits a president to two five-year terms, but is not retroactive, meaning that Robert Mugabe, already the oldest African leader at the age of 89, could continue to rule until he turned 99 in 2023.
The draft constitution also protects a wide range of individual freedoms, curtails police powers, and introduces a constitutional court.
Zimbabwe’s parliament is now expected to convene to adopt the draft. All of the country’s major political parties have agreed on the draft, which seeks to replace the existing one, written at Lancaster House in London prior to Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980.
The constitutional process started after the power-sharing government was formed in the wake of inconclusive presidential elections in 2008.
The easing of political tensions since then has helped the country bottom out from an economic abyss marked by hyper-inflation. However, Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa, remains economically beleaguered.