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Hundreds of people line up to cast their votes in a referendum, in Harare, Zimbabwe, yesterday.
HARARE: Zimbabweans voted on a new constitution yesterday that would pave the way for crucial elections in a country plagued by political violence.
Voters are expected to roundly back the text, which would introduce presidential term limits, beef up parliament’s powers and set elections to decide whether 89-year-old Mugabe stays in power.
Mugabe has ruled uninterrupted since the country’s independence in 1980, despite a series of disputed and violent polls and a severe economic crash propelled by hyper-inflation.
The new draft constitution is part of a internationally-backed plan to get the country back on track. It is supported by both the veteran president and his political nemesis Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
But that has not prevented incidents of violence as activists keep one eye on the general election slated for July.
Shortly before polls in the constitutional referendum that opened yesterday, gunmen — later identified as plainclothes police detectives — seized a member of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change from his home southeast of Harare.
Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told AFP Samson Magumura had been arrested on charges of attempted murder in connection with a recent firebomb attack that injured a Mugabe ally.
But MDC Finance Minister Tendai Biti said police could not confirm where Magumura was being held.
As he cast his vote yesterday, Mugabe, whom many blame for past unrest, urged Zimbabweans to ensure the referendum proceeded peacefully.
“You can’t go about beating people on the streets, that’s not allowed, we want peace in the country, peace, peace.”
Mugabe also used the opportunity to castigate the West, vowing they would not be allowed to monitor the upcoming general election.
“The Europeans and the Americans have imposed sanctions on us and we keep them out in the same way they keep us out,”
Casting his ballot, Tsvangirai expressed hope that a positive outcome would help catapult the country out of a crisis that has been marked by bloodshed and economic meltdown.
“I hope it sets in a political culture where we move from a culture of impunity to a culture of constitutionalism,” he said.
Official results of the referendum are expected to be released within five days of the vote.
School teacher Petronella Dzikiti said she voted in favour of the new constitution, in part because it would introduce presidential term limits.
“We don’t want a situation like we have today, where some of us knew one leader as a child who remains there when we are grown-ups,” the 36-year-old said outside a polling station in Chitungwiza, near
the capital. AFP