Zimbabwe is making its way to vote for a new constitution, and the results should come out this week. In a nation known to have one of the most authoritarian and permanent leaders in Robert Mugabe, this marks an important step in a transition towards greater voting rights. Importantly, a new constitution is “a crucial step toward holding presidential elections this year.” Should the constitution be passed, an election clause would be added, one that voters hope would strictly govern the presidential electoral process.
In 2008 the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had officially gotten the most votes in the first round, but “refused to participate in a runoff after his supporters endured a violent onslaught by Mugabe loyalists.” Eventually a deal was brokered in which Tsvangirai and Mugabe would share the power, but this plan predictably fell through. The transitional government “was supposed to take 18 months, but the process has dragged on for four years.” Now the country is at another crucial point that could drastically change its government. It is easy to look at this vote pessimistically, understanding the power that corrupt leaders maintain in Zimbabwe, and conclude that a new constitution will realistically change little. But there is hope when elections continue to take place and voters continue to support change that it will eventually happen.
Meanwhile, as the votes are counted, Zimbabwe police are defying a high court ruling to release a human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. This demonstrates a clear lack of power by the judicial branch and a lack of accountability and respect for the governmental system by the police force (presumably under the orders of Mugabe). The contrast to justice is apparent.
Fundamentally, “the new Constitution is meant to help resolve some of the festering problems that have kept Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s most stable and prosperous nations, mired in crisis.” It will be interesting to see what unfolds.