SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: Polling Stations to Open for 12 Hours During Referendum

Zimbabweans wishing to cast their votes during the referendum will do so between 7am and 7pm, according to a statement published in the government gazette on Friday, and issued on the orders of President Robert Mugabe.

High turnout is expected on March 16th as the country decides on the new constitution. Anyone above 18 years old and with an ID card will be able to vote in any polling station countrywide.

Eric Matinenga, the Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, said he would have preferred the referendum vote over two days.

Briefing journalists in Harare on the day he announced the date for the referendum, Matinenga said he was going to lobby the 'powers that be' to allow Zimbabweans more time to vote for the new charter.

If Zimbabweans support the new constitution by voting Yes in the referendum the country will proceed to have harmonized elections in July, according to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The anticipated elections have caught the attention of the regional and international community, who fear a repeat of the violence that rocked Zimbabwe in the disputed 2008 poll. After that election over 500 people were dead, tens of thousands had been tortured and over 500,000 displaced from their homes.

Already President Ian Khama of Botswana has expressed reservations over the possibility of peaceful elections being held, saying those responsible for the "brutality and intimidation" of 2008 remain in place and ready to act.

Khama told the Business Day newspaper of South Africa on Wednesday that he hoped elections would be peaceful and fair.

'All I can say right now is that I hope there will be a credible election ... The reason I say 'hope' is because all the people who were involved in the brutality and intimidation that took place back then are still there today,' Khama said.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said a special SADC summit will be held soon on Zimbabwe, to ensure the forthcoming elections are free and fair.

Speaking while addressing civic society leaders on the draft constitution, Tsvangirai said: "We will have a special summit on Zimbabwe on conditions for free and fair elections with SADC. We will not allow a repeat of the culture of violence and abuse like what happened in 2008. I do not want to be part of a war against the people."

Pedzisai Ruhanya, a director with the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said: 'I think SADC has said it loud and clear that they will not accept an election that is not free and fair and an election that is marred by violence."

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