After years of political wrangling, Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government announced in mid-January an agreement on a new constitution, setting the stage for a constitutional referendum and general elections in the coming months. While progress on the constitution is a welcome step forward for institutional and democratic reforms, President Robert Mugabe’s continued grip on the country’s coercive apparatus and disregard for formal institutions mean that a new constitution will likely be insufficient to avert another round of electoral violence in Zimbabwe.
The compromise draft document, which curtails the power of the executive, among other changes, enjoys support from all parties in the unity government -- Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the smaller MDC faction currently led by Welshman Ncube.
Given this level of support, the constitutional referendum tentatively scheduled for March 16 is widely expected to pass. Last month, Tsvangirai confidently stated, “Since there is a national consensus by all parties, the referendum will be a formality.” Unless Mugabe and ZANU-PF change course and decide to campaign against the constitution, a referendum is likely to be relatively uncontested and peaceful.