Zimbabweans vote overwhelmingly in favour of new constitution
Charter limits future presidents to two five-year terms
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, attending the inauguration Mass for Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City yesterday. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe chose to attend the inauguration of Pope Francis in Rome yesterday rather than stay at home and witness the outcome of a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly accepted a new constitution.
At noon in Harare, as Mr Mugabe was preparing to attend the new pontiff’s official appointment, the Zimbabwe electoral commission confirmed that almost 95 per cent of Zimbabweans who cast their ballot on Saturday voted in favour of the charter.
Presidential term limits
The new constitution, which was three years in the making, limits future presidents to two five-year terms, reduces their powers significantly, and abolishes the position of prime minister.
However, the clause that limits presidential terms does not apply retrospectively. So Mr Mugabe (89) could feasibly serve as Zimbabwe’s president for 10 more years.
The referendum result paves the way for a general election later this year that will end the country’s stalled powersharing arrangement.
The powersharing deal between Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was put in place to resolve disputed elections in 2008 that were marred by state-sponsored violence.
All the main political parties in the country canvassed for a Yes vote in the run-up to Saturday’s referendum. The official turnout at polling stations was slightly more than half the six million people eligible to vote, which was higher than most analysts had expected.
Now all eyes will turn to the general election, expected to take place in June or July.
The MDC and civil society groups have warned that state-sponsored violence and intimidation of their members are on the increase again, which does not bode well for a peaceful poll.
While the referendum was hailed by the US and regional observers as peaceful and credible, four senior aids of Mr Tsvangirai’s were arrested by police on polling day. They were charged yesterday with breaching the official secrets code, impersonating the police, and illegal possession of documents for criminal use.
Despite the referendum’s importance, Mr Mugabe, a devout Catholic, ignored a European travel ban in place against him since 2002 and flew to Rome on Monday so he could witness the inauguration.
A technicality allows Mr Mugabe to enter Europe if he is en route to the Vatican, which is not subject to European law.
Pope Francis belongs to the Jesuit order, and Mr Mugabe was educated at one of its mission schools in Zimbabwe.