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Zimbabwe is taking another important step in the hoped-for transition to a free and open democracy with the drafting of a new national constitution. It is a key element of the Global Political Agreement signed in September 2008 to bring peace and stability to the country, and the United States supports the process and very much hopes it succeeds.
About 700 people, among them members of civil society, traditional leaders, parliamentarians, church representatives and special interest groups, have received training and been organized into outreach teams to collect citizen input on the new constitution to replace a document in place since independence in 1980. The people's views will help determine voting rights, political rights such as freedom of speech and assembly, how much power the central government will have and how citizens are represented in it.
The teams will report their findings to a group of special commissions, which then will draft the new constitution and submit it for public approval in a referendum. While not stipulated in the Global Political Agreement, it is hoped that national elections would follow within 2 years, to enable the people of Zimbabwe to freely and openly select their leader.
The importance of moving forward on a new document of government is underscored by the problems that continue to dog the transitional government created by the GPA last year. While progress has been made in addressing the nation's grave economic problems and political violence toward opposition parties and civic activists, others remain due to bitter disputes over power-sharing.
It is clear, however, that Zimbabweans are ready for change. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 3 in 4 citizens disapprove of long-time President Robert Mugabe. This was even higher among those living in the nation's cities. An inclusive and open constitutional outreach program gives citizens the chance to put those concerns into action, shaping a new government and more stable, secure nation.