Zimbabwe referendum: Mugabe casts ballot, Tsvangirai aides arrested


Zimbabweans turn out in their numbers to vote in the constitutional referendum in Harare on March 16, 2013. Polls opened in Zimbabwe early Saturday for a key referendum on a new constitution that would curb President Robert Mugabe's powers and pave the way for elections later in the year.

President Robert Mugabe cast his ballot in Zimbabwe's referendum on a new constitution Saturday that would rein in his 33-year rule.

Accompanied by his wife and daughter, Africa's oldest leader appeared relaxed as he voted in Harare's Highfield township, AFP reported.

He urged Zimbabweans to ensure the referendum is carried out peacefully, amid reports of kidnapping, beatings and two firebomb attacks.

"You can't go about beating people on the streets, that's not allowed, we want peace in the country, peace, peace," Mugabe told reporters after he voted.

"Peace begins with Robert Mugabe," he said.

However, on Sunday, police arrested four aides to Mugabe rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and a lawyer who came to assist one of them, CNN reported. According to Tsvangirai's office, three of those aides were arrested after 15 plainclothes policemen raided the prime minister's communications office.

The country’s most prominent rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was arrested after she went to the home of Tsvangirai's chief legal adviser, Thabani Mpofu, during a police raid early Sunday morning and demanded police produce a search warrant, the Associated Press reported. Police said she was “obstructing or defeating the course of justice," Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said.

The key referendum on a new constitution sets the stage for Tsvangirai to end President Robert Mugabe’s 33-year rule in elections later this year, Bloomberg reported. 

It would limit Mugabe's power, and allow subsequent presidents two five-year terms. It will not apply retroactively and thus apply to Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader, who could technically rule for another two terms.

Reuters reported the new constitution aims to strengthen the cabinet and parliament, both weakened during Mugabe's dominating tenure. 

As he cast his vote, Mugabe told the BBC that Zimbabweans had been widely consulted about the constitutional changes, though he acknowledged they may have needed more time to consider the final document.

"The views and the ideas came from the people so we can't be blamed for having ignored the people," he said.

According to the AP:

Vote counting began late Saturday and full results from isolated areas are expected within five days.