June 18, 2013
Zimbabwe votes on curbs to president's power
Zimbabweans have voted in a referendum expected to endorse a new constitution that would trim presidential powers and pave the way for an election to decide whether Robert Mugabe extends his three-decade rule.
Mugabe, Africa's oldest president at 89, has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980 and has been accused of waging violent crackdowns on the opposition and weakening state institutions like the cabinet and parliament.
The new constitution would set a maximum two five-year terms for the president, starting with the next election, expected in the second half of this year. But the limit will not apply retroactively, so Mugabe could rule for another two terms.
Presidential decrees will also require majority backing in the cabinet, and declarations of emergency rule or dissolutions of parliament will need the approval of two-thirds of lawmakers, changes that will take effect after the next election.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the rival Movement for Democratic Change of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are backing the charter, making the vote almost a rubber stamp exercise.
At the nearly 10,000 polling stations across the southern African nation, results are set to be announced within five days, said Rita Makarau, head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
Turnout at the poll was generally low across the country but both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been optimistic the constitution would be approved before presidential and parliamentary elections later in the year.
"We want peace in the country. Peace, peace, peace. It must begin with Robert Mugabe and go on to you and everyone else," said Mugabe as he voted in the Highfield township near downtown Harare, accompanied by his wife and daughter.
After a violent and disputed vote in 2008, Mugabe was pushed into a power-sharing agreement with Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai made the referendum on the new constitution a condition of the power-sharing deal and said there would be no point in holding new elections without it.
"This is a new political dispensation and I hope it sets in a new political culture. From the culture of impunity to constitutionalism," Tsvangirai told journalists after voting in the town of Chitungwiza, some 30 km (20 miles) south of Harare.