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Zimbabweans approve new constitution: official results


Almost 95 percent of Zimbabweans voted in favour of a new constitution that would trim President Robert Mugabe's powers and pave the way for new elections, results showed Tuesday.

Tallies of the weekend vote released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission showed 3,079,966 voters were in favour of the new constitution and 179,489 were against.

"Since the majority of the votes were received in favour of the adoption of the draft constitution, it is declared to have been adopted by the people of Zimbabwe," said Lovemore Sekeramayi, the official in charge of the vote tally.

An estimated six million citizens were eligible to vote.

Mugabe and his long-time rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai backed the draft constitution that will usher in fresh polls to end the pair's tense unity government.

The text limits presidents to two five-year terms in office, boosts parliament's powers and abolishes the post of prime minister.

While the referendum was hailed by the United States and regional observers as peaceful and credible, the run-up to the vote was marred by isolated incidents of violence against both leaders' party officials.

A day after the Saturday vote, four of Tsvangirai's staffers were arrested along with a leading rights lawyer who was giving them legal assistance.

The four have been charged with breaching the official secrets code, impersonating the police and illegal possession of documents for criminal use.

Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa faces separate charges.

The arrests have raised concerns that elections slated from July may see a rerun of bloodshed that has marred past elections.

The new vote which could legally be held anytime before end of October, will end the tense power-sharing arrangement set up by Mugabe and Tsvangirai after chaotic 2008 elections.

A supreme court last year ordered Mugabe to announce the election date before March 31, but it remains unclear if he will do so.

He can, however, ask the court for a postponement.

After the referendum results are announced, it takes some 30 days of legislative technicalities before the draft is signed into law by Mugabe.

A constitution amendment bill has to be tabled, debated and approved.

But lawmakers said the debate will be ceremonial as the text has already been given a green light.

The new constitution protects everyone from all forms of violence and torture and guarantees freedom of expression.

It is hoped that it will level the electoral playing field after a decade-and-a-half of troubled polls.

There however are concerns among some observers on whether there is enough time to synchronise the existing laws with the new constitution in time for elections.

"It is almost certain that elections will be (held) this year," said McDonald Lewanika of Crisis Coalition.

He added however that it was unlikely all the constitutional changes would be implemented by then.

But Jonathan Moyo, a member of ZANU-PF's supreme decision making body, the politburo, told AFP it was possible for parliament to move quickly.

Amending the electoral laws in line with the constitution could be finalised even within weeks, he said.

"Its adoption as bill is a formality...there is no basis for grandstanding or politicking to waste time. It can be done in a day," said Moyo.

He said law drafters are already working on the changes that will impact directly on the holding of polls.

"The fact that when the process started in April 2010 it was expected to last 18 months, now we are in our 47th month, there is no need to waste time.

"There is more than enough time to align the electoral laws with the constitution," he said