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Zimbabwe Appears Set for New Constitution


A Zimbabwean election official counts ballot papers after the close of voting on a referendum to approve a new constitution, in Harare, March 16, 2013.

A Zimbabwean election official counts ballot papers after the close of voting on a referendum to approve a new constitution, in Harare, March 16, 2013.

Preliminary results from Zimbabwe’s constitutional referendum show the draft will be approved, paving the way for new elections later this year. However, tensions flared after members of the opposition were arrested.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission says preliminary results show the draft constitution will be overwhelmingly approved. The results are posted outside all polling stations where ballot counting is complete.

The new constitution curbs the powers of the president and imposes a limit of two five-year terms, although President Robert Mugabe, who is 89, would be allowed to seek office again.

The leader of a Southern African Development Community election observer mission said Saturday's referendum was free and fair.

“Based on its overall findings, the mission is of the view that there existed a substantially conducive and peaceful environment in which the referendum was conducted," said Prince Gudiza Dlamini. "The Zimbabweans were accorded the opportunity to freely express their will in voting for a referendum outcome of their choice.”

That is almost exactly what the SADC observer mission said in its official statement Sunday.

However, on Sunday police arrested five people in a raid at Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office. Four Tsvangirai aides were arrested, along with a top human-rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, who was detained as he tried to seek the release of Tsvangirai’s officials.

Monday, the activist group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said police had defied a high court order to have Mtetwa released.

The group's director said Metetwa's arrest highlights the need for reform in Zimbabwe.

“I think it shows that we are vindicated in setting out what needs to be done," said Irene Petras. "Political parties themselves need to look what is happening and see that these things need to be addressed because if we go into the election period with this kind of a police force, with these unreformed institutions, then we are likely to have problems in that election too.”

Saturday’s referendum was held to ensure Zimbabwe holds its next elections under a new constitution.

That was a condition set by African leaders when they pressured President Mugabe and Tsvangirai to form a power-sharing government four years ago. That followed the violent 2008 election in which Mugabe claimed victory over Tsvangirai, but the results were widely rejected as a sham.

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