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Low Turnout as Zimbabweans Vote in Crucial Constitutional Referendum

  • Studio7 Reporters

Voters captured in one of the polling stations in Zimbabwe's capital city, Harare. (AP)
Zimbabweans voted on Saturday in a constitutional referendum to either adopt or reject a draft constitution which limits presidential terms and paves the way for a crucial general election to be held sometime this year.

Indications are that there was a low voter turnout in most parts of the country. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission could not provide figures as vote counting started soon after polling stations closed in the evening.

According to our correspondents in the Midlands, Matabeleland, Manicaland and Mashonaland West provinces, there was voter apathy in Bulawayo, Zvimba North, Hurungwe, Chakari, Norton, Kadoma, Chegutu, Lupane and Tsholotsho, among many other areas.

In some areas like Rushinga and Chakari, suspected Zanu-PF supporters are said to have asked voters to submit their names after casting their votes.

Most polling stations opened early in the morning to allow Zimbabweans to adopt or reject the draft constitution compiled by the parliamentary constitution select committee.

After casting his vote around mid-day at Mhofu Primary School in Harare’s Highfield suburb, President Robert Mugabe urged Zimbabweans to vote peacefully.

President Mugabe told reporters that foreign observers, particularly those from the European Union and America, will not be allowed to monitor the forthcoming national polls.

Mr. Mugabe, 89, who led the nation to independence from Britain in 1980, has repeatedly accused Western governments of supporting efforts to oust him. He has ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 32 years.

The country's draft constitution limits presidential terms to two-five year terms. The document allows President Mugabe to run for two more terms.

Speaking to journalists after casting his vote at Chaminuka Primary school in St. Mary’s, Chitungwiza, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said the constitutional referendum is a step towards democratic polls.

The board chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Solomon Zwana, said his organisation is satisfied with the way the referendum was conducted despite a low turn-out in some provinces.

Bulawayo Agenda director Thabani Nyoni said the low voter turnout indicates that the national event was not widely publicized. “Apart from that, people may have boycotted the election due to the fact that parties in the unity government agreed on the way forward in terms of voting for the draft,” said Nyoni.

Zanu-PF youth chairman for Harare province, Jim Kunaka, denied reports that members of his party turned away some voters from polling stations linked to the mdc formations.

Gwanda resident Buletsi Nyathi said there was a low turnout in most parts of Gwanda town in Matabeleland South Province. “The low turnout in worrying especially when one thinks about the forthcoming general election,” he said.

Some Zimbabweans regarded as aliens claim that they were turned away at polling stations by officers who said they were not eligible to vote.

Popular musician Khulekani Bhethule, who is well-known as Khuxman, was one of the people who were sent home without casting their votes.

Copac co-chairman Edward Mkhosi said aliens were not eligible to vote in the constitutional referendum.

Some women from the three parties in the unity government told VOA Studio 7 they hope Zimbabweans will vote for the draft charter.

Official results are expected to be released within five days of the vote.

According to Amnesty International, the United Kingdom-based rights monitor, more than 180 people were killed and over 9,000 injured in the 2008 general polls, prompting a national crisis that forced Mr. Mugabe into a power-sharing deal with Mr. Tsvangirai and another MDC formation then lead by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.