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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles

  • Zimbabwe Referendum Watch - Issue 1
    March 03, 2013

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    With Issue 1 of Zimbabwe Referendum Watch (ZRW), Sokwanele continues its tradition of monitoring Zimbabwe elections against the 'SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections'. These were adopted by SADC leaders on 17th August 2004 in Mauritius, and Zimbabwe is a signatory to the benchmark principles. Zimbabwe Referendum Watch measures the parties' performance in relation to the forthcoming elections against this standard. This is our first issue, and we started monitoring political compliance on 13 February 2013, the day the referendum date was announced.

    The long awaited Final Draft Constitution from COPAC, the Constitution Select Committee, was released on 1 February 2013. In stark contrast to the very lengthy process of drafting the document, a surprisingly short time has been allocated for voter education: Zimbabweans will be asked to decide whether they accept the COPAC Draft as their future constitution on 16 March 2013. The polling stations will be open for twelve hours.

    There has been widespread condemnation of the amount of time Zimbabweans have been allowed to familiarise themselves with the draft constitution. The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), who successfully campaigned for a 'No vote' in the constitution referendum held in 2000, have been amongst the most vocal in voicing their objections. They immediately launched legal efforts to extend the date, but their efforts were thwarted on 28 February when Judge President George Chiweshe dismissed the case saying the case was not subject to rule by a court, affirming President Robert Mugabe's right to set election dates on his own judgement.

    However, the SADC guidelines require 'Timeous announcement of the election date' (4.1.5), 'Voter education' (2.1.8) and 'Full participation of the citizens in the political process' (2.1.1). We have accordingly recorded the date chosen as a breach of SADC guidelines in line with criticisms voiced by many: the draft document is complex and very long (172 pages); common sense dictates that Zimbabweans will need more than a month to first obtain a copy, and then peruse it, and then discuss it. Furthermore, it is expected that voter turnout will be high on polling day making the twelve hours allocated potentially unfeasible to allow everyone the opportunity to vote.

    The most leniently critical assumption for the date chosen is that it is because the three main political parties are united in campaigning for a 'Yes vote'. Telling Zimbabweans to vote Yes, and then swiftly frog-marching them to the polls, has reduced the referendum to little more than a rubber-stamping exercise. Those who want to campaign for a 'No vote' are more strident in their anger, believing that the limited time is an effort to make it difficult for those opposed to the draft to campaign for a 'No vote'. Either way, a few extra weeks seems little to ask for given the fact that Zimbabweans are already cynical about the heavy political involvement in the drafting of the document, with further efforts to undermine their right to be fully informed possibly leading to an overall lack of national commitment to this most important law.

    Despite the rare occurrence of having all three main political parties in agreement before an election, ZRW has already recorded an array of breaches levelled primarily against the ZANU-PF party.

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