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Zimbabweans vote on new constitution

Guest post by Andrew Novak


Voters in Zimbabwe are expected to approve a new constitution in a referendum on Saturday, which will include sweeping changes to the structure of government and to the bill of rights. zimbabwe new icon

After a contentious four-year process of negotiation and input by the Constitution Select Committee (COPAC), representatives of Zimbabwe’s tripartite power-sharing government have completed a draft constitution that is ready to go to voters.  Earlier talks failed despite a near-agreement in spring 2012, after Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe and the ruling party Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) pulled out of talks with the two opposition factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).  More than 70,000 polling officers will be deployed in advance of the Saturday referendum at about 9,500 polling places nationwide.  In addition, international observers are also expected in Zimbabwe, including a delegation from the Southern African Development Community.

The new constitution overhauls the structure of Zimbabwe’s government, imposing term limits on the president, further limiting executive power, and placing the feared Central Intelligence Organization under civilian oversight.  Importantly, the president will no longer have unfettered ability to appoint senators, provincial governors, or members of the judicial services commission, which oversees judicial appointments, although he will still have the ability to appoint members of the tribunal that investigates judicial conduct.

The new constitution ensures fair access to state media to all political parties and places electoral oversight solely under the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (previously, the state media was dominated by the ruling party and electoral management was divided among several offices).

For the first time, Zimbabwe’s constitution will include social, economic, and cultural rights, including a right to health care and education, although it limits these rights to citizens and permanent residents.  The constitution includes comprehensive protections for women’s rights and the rights of persons with disabilities, but it still bans same-sex marriage; the draft also sharply curtails but nonetheless retains the death penalty.

One noted shortcoming is that power is not devolved to the provinces, so the draft perpetuates the over-centralization of Zimbabwe’s government, although it does successfully limit the ability to suspend constitutional rights during states of emergency.

More generally, the constitution has met criticism for two major reasons: first, it does not completely restrain broad executive power; and second, it was produced in a negotiated fashion between the leaders of the three major parties, lacked sufficient public input, and was rushed to a vote only thirty days after the final draft was published. Continue reading Zimbabweans vote on new constitution