Civil rights groups have called on Zimbabwean voters to reject a new constitution, accusing the political elite, including President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leaders, of imposing a fraud on the people.
Both Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of Morgan Tsvangirai are pressing for a “yes” vote in a referendum on a new settlement. But respected Zimbabwean rights activist Lovemore Madhuku has called for a “no” vote calling the constitution a “fraud” that would reinforce the country's dyfunctional political system: “The people of Zimbabwe should vote “No” because the process has not been driven by their collective wants and aspirations,” he said. “It was politically driven.”
Mr Madhuku and his grassroots movement, the National Constitutional Association, accuse the unity government of railroading the new settlement, released only three weeks ago. Only 90,000 copies have been printed in a country with six million registered voters.
The document sets out term limits for the president which cannot be applied in retrospect opening the way for Mr Mugabe to stay in power for another two terms in theory.
With support from both of Zimbabwe's rival political parties the new settlement is widely expected to pass, despite the fact that public consultations were stage managed and often violent, with one man killed at a town hall meeting.
The run up to the vote has seen further intimidation with Zanu-PF activists threatening, and in some cases attacking, “no” vote campaigners. Western monitors have been refused access to the country for the vote which is widely seen as a rehearsal for full elections expected later this year.
A new constitution was part of the peace deal between Zanu-PF and the MDC that set up a unity government following the last election in 2008. The agreement saw Mr Tsvangirai, a long-time critic of Mr Mugabe, become prime minister while several ministries, including finance were given to MDC members. At the last presidential Mr Tsvangirai took a first round lead over his veteran rival but withdrew from a run-off after a brutal campaign of violence against his supporters.
The only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence from Britain in 1979, Mr Mugabe was widely feted in his first decade in office for broadening education and overseeing economic expansion. Since 2000 he oversaw a disastrous and violent land invasion campaign which hobbled the country and turned Zimbabwe into a pariah state with its former allies in the West.