Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe

Mugabe announces constitution referendum date

Mugabe announces constitution referendum date

http://www.timeslive.co.za/

Sapa-AP | 16 February, 2013 09:53

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe issued an official proclamation on Friday 
setting March 16 as the date for the nation to vote on a new constitution 
ahead of national elections later this year.

A government notice formally published on Friday leaves a calendar month for 
distribution of the 160-page draft document and campaigning for a 'Yes' or 
'No' vote. Independent advocacy groups say that is not long enough for a 
free poll to reflect the wishes of electors.

Friday's notice said polling stations will be opened for 12 hours 
countrywide at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) on March 16, which is a Saturday.

The draft constitution was completed on Feb. 6 after three years of 
disputes, bickering and constant delays and funding shortages. Democratic 
reforms to the constitution were a key demand of regional mediators after 
violent, disputed elections in 2008.

About 90 000 copies of the draft are being printed for distribution starting 
Monday.

Zimbabwe has nearly six million registered voters out of a population of 13 
million.

Mugabe's proclamation comes a day after the independent head of the state 
election commission resigned on grounds of failing health. The commission is 
in charge of overseeing all voting. Several lengthy formalities are required 
for its chairman, Judge Simpson Mutambanengwe, to be replaced. His deputy 
Joyce Kazembe, who has been acting for the elderly judge in his recent 
absences, is widely known as a sympathizer of Mugabe's ZANU PF party.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's former opposition party, in a shaky 
coalition with Mugabe, has called for the suspension of sweeping security 
laws in the run-up to vote on the constitution. Under those laws, police 
clearance is required for political gatherings. Party leaders say they need 
to explain the often obtuse legal language of the draft constitution.

Suspension or repeal of the draconian Public Order and Security Act, used to 
entrench the arrest and detention powers of loyalist police and military in 
a decade of political and economic turmoil, is opposed by Mugabe's 
hardliners.

Mugabe's announcement Friday did not take into account requests by 
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party for the referendum poll to 
be carried over to a second day.

All the country's political leaders have called for a referendum 'Yes' vote 
to allow the constitution to be accepted and signed into law by Mugabe 
without any further changes.

An estimated $200 million has still to be found to pay for the referendum 
and the parliamentary and presidential elections, possibly three months 
later, that Mugabe, who turns 89 on February 21, is contesting as his 
party's sole presidential candidate.

Crisis in Zimbabwe, an alliance of rights and democracy activists, said on 
Thursday that March 16, as initially proposed, left far too little time to 
complete countrywide distribution of the new constitution and permit voters 
to become familiar with it, raising fears over the credibility of a rushed 
vote.

Amnesty International and local human rights groups have also protested a 
recent clampdown on rights and democracy activists by police that included 
tear gassing and baton charging women peace marchers marking Valentine's Day 
on Thursday. 

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