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Zimbabwe appoints new election chief

Appointment crucial ahead of referendum on new constitution

  • Agencies
  • Published: 14:09 February 20, 2013
  • Gulf News

Harare: Rita Makarau, a Zimbabwean Supreme Court judge, will serve as the country’s new elections chief through upcoming elections, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on Wednesday.

The appointment is crucial ahead of a planned referendum on a new constitution slated for March and general elections likely to take place later this year.

The previous head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Simpson Mutambanengwe, stepped down for health reasons.

“She [Makarau] will preside over these two important events in Zimbabwe’s electoral calendar,” Chinamasa told DPA. “After December, she can revert to her [old] job.”

He said the choice is hers and that she could also opt to stay on in the position of elections chief.

The move comes just a few days after the southern African nation replaced the head of its human rights commission.

On Tuesday, police raided the offices of a leading election monitoring group in the latest of what activists fear is a deliberate move by authorities to harass them ahead of a referendum on the constitution.

Police forcibly entered the offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) by breaking part of the perimeter wall and confiscated documents, a human rights lawyer said.

No arrests were made.

“They had a warrant to search for subversive material, documents, gadgets, recordings and to look for illegal immigrants,” Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesman Kumbirai Mafunda told AFP.

Police have in recent weeks targeted non-governmental organisations as the country readies for a crucial constitutional referendum on March 16.

Meanwhile, a pro-democracy group opposed to the draft constitution on Tuesday filed for an urgent court order to defer the referendum to allow for more time to study the text.

The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) argued that the general public were not involved in the drafting of the law, while their contributions were not captured in the text.

“It is unfair that they should be given just about a month to make up their minds,” the NCA said in the court documents.

“It is therefore necessary that the people be given an adequate opportunity to scrutinise the constitution in order to make informed choices.”

A new constitution is a key reform for new elections to choose a successor to an uneasy powersharing government formed nearly four years ago by long-ruling President Robert Mugabe and his nemesis Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister.

Elections are due in July.

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