93 percent vote 'Yes'

HARARE - Zimbabweans passed a new constitution in a relatively peaceful referendum that could reshape the political landscape of the troubled country, official results showed yesterday.

Greater checks on presidential powers, a strengthened and expanded legislature, socio-economic rights and greater civil liberties were among changes voted through in Saturday’s referendum, which came five years after allegations over electoral malpractice in a presidential election ignited violence that killed more than 200 people.

The new legal framework addresses corruption, political patronage, land issues and repression which have plagued Zimbabwe since it won independence from Britain in 1980.

It permits more devolution to grassroots administrations and significantly empowers women.

The new charter was a key provision in the power-sharing deal struck between then-rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to end the violence after the 2008 election.

The referendum win could help Tsvangirai’s presidential bid in the next elections later this year, analysts said.

Mugabe — who is squaring off with the trade unionist-cum-politician — is seeking re-election for an eighth term, but will be eligible to stand for only two more five-year terms after presidential caps ushered in through the new Constitution.

Final official referendum results showed over 92 percent of voters had cast their ballots in favour of the law, Zimbabwe’s electoral authority said.

No major incidents were reported on Saturday at Zimbabwe’s 9 456 polling stations.

Some 5,6 million people are registered voters, but a record 3 316 082 Zimbabweans voted in last Saturday’s constitutional vote.
 
At the 2000 referendum, only 1 282 302 voted when Zimbabweans rejected a draft constitution sponsored by Mugabe’s government and opposed by civic groups.

Lovemore Sekeramayi, Zec chief elections officer, said the official result was based on votes cast in all of the country’s constituencies, and declared the results as final tallies of the overall outcome.
 
Sekeramayi announced the results at a media briefing at the National Command Centre in Harare.

The “Yes” side had 92, 9 percent (3 079 966) and 5,4 percent (179 489) voted “No” out of the 3,3 million voters, with 1,7 percent  (56 627) being rejected votes, official results showed.

To be adopted, the law required 50 percent plus one vote of the ballot cast nationally.

Mugabe’s Zanu PF described the referendum as a significant step for Zimbabwe’s democracy.
 
The Zimbabwean “Yes” camp including all the three ruling parties had already claimed victory.

Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo called the victory a renewal for the nation.

“We are very happy, we expected it, it is good news,” Gumbo told the Daily News. “The people of Zimbabwe are determined to establish their destiny and this is one way of establishing their destiny.”

Tsvangirai said Zimbabweans have endorsed a new dispensation that sets in motion a new and democratic paradigm for the country.

“From the Zambezi to the Limpopo, millions voted for a new era that respects human dignity; an era that will see the broadening of basic human rights, the empowerment of women and the  setting of term limits for the president and heads of other public bodies,” Tsvangirai told reporters yesterday.

 “From today, we have ushered in a new Zimbabwe that must necessarily come with a new culture of constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law. This means inculcating a new value system among Zimbabweans, especially politicians and the security sector, to respect and adhere to the Constitution and stick to the cardinal dictate that no one is above the law.”

He said the new constitution was “the culmination of our struggle for a new dispensation for which a new, democratic constitution is a key milestone.”

“Our conduct in the next election must show that we truly believe in constitutionalism,” he added.
 
The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) — a broad alliance of opposition parties, church groups, trades unions and civic organisations — which was campaigning for a “No” vote, could not immediately concede defeat.

“We are digesting the results, we will be issuing a comprehensive response tomorrow (today) at a press conference which will set out our reaction and the way forward,” said NCA chairman Lovemore Madhuku.
 
The referendum was hailed by both local and foreign election observers including the Sadc mission as transparent, with most foreign missions urging Zimbabwe to uphold peace and stability.

Malawi Election Support Network congratulated Zec and the people of Zimbabwe “for a successful and peaceful constitutional referendum.”

It called for more civic education to prepare voters for the harmonised elections expected this year and deployment of more election observers in the coming elections, more training for Zec staff at polling station level and increased media coverage for the forthcoming harmonised elections.

The local Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) urged Zec to ensure police officers were deployed outside of polling stations as stipulated in the law not inside; that the voters’ roll is amended and updated and further called for early de-centralisation of the accreditation process to make it less cumbersome and cost effective.

“Zesn again notes that additional electoral reforms are needed before the harmonised elections take place,” the mission said.

After years of marred elections, the charter is seen as an important step in avoiding a repeat of the post-election bloodshed in mid-2008 that pushed the country of about 12 million people to the brink of anarchy. - Gift Phiri and Xolisani Ncube

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