By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
HARARE, Zimbabwe—Recent reports from the country of Zimbabwe indicate the country’s intent in preparing to hold major constitutional reform in March of this year.
Zimbabwe’s constitutional affairs minister says that a referendum on a new constitution has already been “tentatively” set for March 16, 2013. Following this referendum, the country will partake in elections later in the year to end the country’s current shaky coalition government.
The nearness of this March vote, however, has raised some suspicion among activist groups that Zimbabwe voters will not have enough time to read and become informed on the stances of this new constitution, a document the government has slated for a print run of 90,000 copies for distribution to Zimbabwe’s six million registered voters. This plan was announced at a half day public awareness workshop for members of parliament.
The Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga said, “On my way from Mvurwi (in Mashonaland Central) I learnt that the Office of the President was looking for me. I was then advised through the Minister who stood in for me at that meeting that the principals wanted to convey to me that tentatively the referendum will be held on the 16th of March.”
Matinenga hopes to have a two-day referendum in order to allow people to express their opinions. He commented further saying, “I am trying to gain audience with the powers that be and try to argue with them for a two-day referendum.” He also noted that this draft Constitution would be publicized, for “any document of this nature must be officially publicized.” This explains the 90,000 copies ready for distribution.
However, currently the voting is scheduled for just one day. Advocacy groups expressed concern that such a quick polling period prevents adequate voter education on the new rewritten constitution.
The new document was just completed on February 6, after three years of debates and disputes. Democratic reforms to the constitution were a key demand of the country’s regional mediators after the violent and disputed elections that took place in 2008.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti told members of Parliament that the United Nations had responded to the government’s request for funds in order to finance the referendum and to keep harmonized polls for the vote.
For further information, please see:
ABC News – Zimbabwe Sets March 16 Vote Date – 14 February 2013
AllAfrica – Referendum Date Set – 14 February 2013
Fox News – Zimbabwe Sets March 14 For Constitution Referendum Vote – 14 February 2013
TRNS – Zimbabwe and Kenya Brace for Major Elections – 14 February 2013