Zimbabwe to vote on new constitution

By Angus Shaw

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 15 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Pro-democracy groups and witnesses have reported this month that supporters of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party have been making door-to-door visits to list the names and identity details of householders and their members. The supporters have also activated car theft alarms outside homes in an apparent attempt to unsettle voters by trying to convince them that they will be under technical surveillance, even inside voting booths.

Witnesses also reported being told incorrectly that Tsvangirai did not favor a 'Yes' vote in the referendum and therefore the expected overwhelming approval of the constitution would show a Mugabe landslide that would be repeated in upcoming presidential polls. According to this scheme, citizens would then deem it pointless to vote for Tsvangirai, 61, as a presidential hopeful.

The election body says it has printed 12 million ballot papers for the referendum. The nation has 6.6 million registered voters, but on Saturday all Zimbabweans over age 18 carrying a valid citizens' identification document can vote over a 12 hour period from 7 a.m. local time (0500 GMT). Polling stations using indelible finger ink on the hands of those who have already voted will stay open later if voters are still in line at the closing time.

A final tally of turnout and results is expected within five days.

The draft constitution reduces presidential powers to pass authoritarian decrees and paves the way for a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission on past violence and human rights violations.

It also strengthens the bill of rights to protect all Zimbabweans from "torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment" that would be enforced by a new Constitutional Court with powers above the main existing highest court of appeal, the Supreme Court.

In urging supporters to vote 'Yes,' Mugabe's party says the draft recognizes as irreversible the seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms for handing over to blacks since 2000, black empowerment programs and taking local control of foreign-owned mines and businesses.

It says the draft honors black guerrilla fighters who ended colonial rule after a seven-year bush war with white-led troops of the former colony of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence.

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