President Robert Mugabe has signed Zimbabwe’s new constitution into law, clearing the path to crucial elections later this year.
A beaming Mugabe – flanked by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his main political rival, and Deputy President Joice
Mujuru – signed multiple copies of the charter on Wednesday at State House in the capital, Harare, to cheers and applause from aides.
Approved overwhelmingly in a referendum in March this year, the constitution clips the powers of the president, limits presidential tenures to two five-year terms and does away with the post of prime minister.
However, it does not apply retroactively so the 89-year-old Mugabe could technically extend his three decades in office by another 10 years.
“This day is an historic day, it’s about the future,” Eric Matinenga, the Constitutional Affairs Minister said at the signing ceremony.
“I can assure you that this document which is before us is a good document.”
A new constitution is one of the pre-conditions for elections to pick a successor to the shaky compromise government Mugabe formed four years ago with Tsvangirai.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980, tainted by allegations of rights abuses against his opponents and critics.
The constitution was unopposed through both houses of parliament.
Tsvangirai said the charter had set the southern African country “on a new path” after nearly a decade of economic decline and political violence that started in 2000 with the seizure of white-owned commercial farms by Mugabe supporters.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government four years ago to avoid a descent into full-scale conflict in the aftermath of a bloody presidential run-off election in 2008.
The power-sharing government faced frequent difficulties over the allocations of key government posts, the implementation of key reforms and over charges of violence.
The five-year coalition parliament, formed under the same agreement, expires on June 29, and parliamentary and presidential elections should follow within 90 days of that date.
The date for the elections is yet to be announced.
Mugabe and his allies want the polls as soon as possible, while Tsvangirai insists on the application of reforms first to ensure a free and fair vote.
Many obstacles remain, not least finding the estimated $130m needed to pay for the election, and reaching agreement on outside monitors. Harare has turned down offers of United Nations or donor assistance.