Over 2 million vote in referendum

HARARE - An estimated two million Zimbabweans voted in the constitutional referendum on Saturday, electoral authorities have said.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson, Rita Makarau, told a news conference in Harare yesterday that the counting of votes is still underway.

“We estimate that over 2 million people voted in the Saturday referendum,” Makarau said.

“As you know, the duty to announce results lies in the hands of the chief election officer and he will do that when he is ready.”

Zec printed 12 million ballot papers anticipating a large turnout on polling day.

This was due to the massive support given to the draft constitution by all the main three political parties in the inclusive government.

Makarau said the estimate came from early returns from the nation’s 9 400 polling stations.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 6,6 million registered voters according to the 2008 voters’ roll, and expectations were high that the figure could increase given that more youths were to participate in the exercise.

Despite all main political parties in Parliament calling for a “Yes” vote, fears of a low voter turnout were raised by critics of the draft constitution.

These included Munyaradzi Gwisai (International Socialist Organisation) and Lovemore Madhuku of the National Constitutional Assembly, citing that Zimbabweans were given only three weeks to read the 170-page draft of the constitution.

Makarau said Saturday’s voting was carried out peacefully with the counting of votes resuming late in the evening. Zec expects to announce the full results from all 10 provinces within five days.

The draft constitution, if adopted would set a maximum two five-year terms for the president starting with the next election.

This implies that Zanu PF presidential candidate, President Robert Mugabe could stay on for 10 more years if he wins the watershed elections.

The draft constitution, drawn up by a committee of legislators in Parliament, says that presidential decrees will require majority backing in Cabinet.

It also says that declarations of emergency rule or dissolutions of Parliament will need the approval of two thirds of lawmakers.

The president will also need a two-third parliament backing to sustain a declaration of war.

Voting of the new constitution had a number of litigations with civic and labour groups challenging the process as well as the contents which Copac, a body of parliamentarians, presented to the people of Zimbabwe to decide on.

Madhuku took Mugabe to High Court in a bid to stop the referendum saying Zimbabweans were not given enough time to scrutinise the draft law.

However, the country’s apex court threw out his application saying a one month period was enough for Zimbabweans to put their minds together and decide on the future.

Madhuku also challenged the legality of Joyce Kazembe, who is Zec deputy chairperson, to act as chairperson when she is not a qualified High Court judge as required by law.

Mugabe had to swear-in Makarau on Friday, hours before voting could start.

A fresh bid by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) led by Lovemore Matombo to have the referendum postponed by four weeks failed after the Supreme Court rejected their application.

Election observers such as Sadc Electoral Commission Forum (ECF) and Jomic, an inter-party monitoring group, have all upheld the referendum process although signalling a few irregularities.

The draft constitution is seen as important to avoid a repeat of the post-election bloodshed in mid-2008 that resulted in the deaths of 200 civilians and took the country of about 12 million people to the brink of anarchy.

Other changes elevate the status of women, allow for greater checks on presidential powers, and strengthen the role of Parliament, give more devolution to grassroots administrations and an increase in civil liberties. - Xolisani Ncube

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