Zimbabwe constitutional referendum hit by intimidation of monitoring group

Electoral Commission gets less funding than it asked for

President Robert Mugabe: since 1980 he and his party have changed the constitution more than aa dozen times. Photograph: Philimon Bulwayo

President Robert Mugabe: since 1980 he and his party have changed the constitution more than aa dozen times. Photograph: Philimon Bulwayo

Thu, Mar 14, 2013, 22:54

A decision by Zimbabwe ’s official election body yesterday to uphold a ban on a leading rights group from monitoring the poll marked the latest worrying incident in an increasingly chaotic countdown to the crucial vote.

A new constitution is needed to level the political playing field before general elections in the next few months to end the country’s stalled powersharing arrangement.

Since 1980, President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have changed the constitution more than a dozen times to strengthen their grip on power.

Despite threats by civil society groups to boycott monitoring the referendum if the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) was barred from overseeing the poll, the Electoral Commission has maintained the ban will remain in place.


Arrests of rights activists
ZimRights officials were arrested by police a few weeks ago and accused of illegally possessing voter-registration forms and making counterfeit copies with the intention of committing fraud at the ballot.

The leading rights group denies any wrongdoing. It claims the charges are part of a police crackdown against civil society groups ahead of the constitutional poll and general election.

Since January, police loyal to Mr Mugabe have raided at least four major civil society organisations, seizing equipment and documents from their offices and detaining staff.

Among those detained was top rights activist Jestina Mukoko, whose detention and torture following the disputed 2008 presidential poll between Mr Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, led to an international outcry.

Ms Mukoko ’s organisation, the Zimbabwe Peace Project, has been accused of being involved in espionage by police who raided its premises.

She was released from custody last Friday after being interviewed and cautioned, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.

Their intention is to intimidate civic society,” McdDonald Lewanik of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said. The vote is also being undermined by money. The electoral commission had asked for $85 million to run the referendum but, the finance ministry warned only $58 million would be made available.