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Zimbabwe's New Constitution Still Work In Progress

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe signs Zimbabwe's new constitution into law in Harare, May 22, 2013.

This year’s constitutional referendum was both peaceful and credible, itself marking an historic step forward.

Following overwhelming voter approval of the draft document in March, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has signed into law a new constitution for the Southern African nation. Flanked by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Vice President Joice Mujuru, Mugabe inked multiple copies of the state charter in a ceremony in the capital Harare on May 22.

The action helps culminate a five-year process of political reform and paves the way for a presidential election as early as this summer, the first since a controversial 2008 vote that was marred by incidents of political violence. By contrast, this year’s constitutional referendum was both peaceful and credible, itself marking an historic step forward in Zimbabwe’s development of democracy and rule of law.

The new constitution limits the president to two terms, expands legislative checks on the executive, and enhances freedom of the media. It increases the size of Parliament and devolves more power to local authorities. It also promotes gender equity, creates a constitutional court and enforces fundamental rights.

The United States congratulates the people and the government of Zimbabwe for taking another step in an important process started in 1980 to establish freedom for all of the nation’s citizens. That work must continue, however, to implement the various reform provisions that remain unaddressed.

For a smooth election, electoral laws must be amended and voter registration must accommodate Zimbabwean-born residents formerly considered “aliens.” The charter requires a voter registration period of 30 days, so time is needed to organize these efforts. Action should now be taken to open up the broadcast media sector and ensure non-partisan application of the rule of law.

The United States believes that all political parties, civil society groups and individuals have a right to operate freely and express their views peacefully. In any country, this is crucial for credible, fair elections.