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February 13, 2013

Zimbabwe Sets Date for Constitutional Referendum

by VOA News

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says the country will likely hold presidential and parliamentary elections in July, after voting on a new constitution in March.

He spoke Wednesday, after Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga said the government had set a March 16 date for the constitutional referendum.

At a news conference in Harare, Matinenga expressed concern that additional time may be needed for the March voting.

"It is one day and I have indicated there is need to rethink so that at least we have two days of voting for the referendum," said Matinenga.

The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which is composed of pro-democracy groups in Zimbabwe, has vowed to challenge the March referendum date in court.

In an interview with VOA, NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said his group is demanding that the government provide a debate period of at least two months before voters cast ballots on the constitution.

Tsvangirai's MDC party and President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party both support the new charter.

The Southern African Development Community has demanded the new constitution be approved before Zimbabwe holds elections to replace the unity government put in place after the violent 2008 elections.

The new constitution would, for the first time, set presidential term limits.  However, it would not be retroactive.  As a result, President Mugabe, which has led the nation since its independence in 1980, can run again.

Mugabe, who turns 89 this month, has indicated he will seek another term.

Zimbabwe's 2008 elections were marred by violence, most of it by ZANU-PF supporters, that prompted regional leaders to nullify Mugabe's victory.  He formed a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai, at the behest of the SADC.  The July polling would end the fragile three-year coalition.