by Staff Writers
Harare (AFP) Oct 22, 2012
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his arch rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday called for peace as they opened talks on a draft of a new constitution that would pave the way for elections.
"Let us be peaceful in our conduct," Mugabe told over 1,000 delegates drawn from political parties and civic groups. "Let us shame our detractors who think Zimbabwe cannot solve their problems without violence."
Two years in the making, the draft charter will be debated at the two-day conference before being put to a referendum.
Delegates were split into different committees around various themes for debate.
Tsvangirai, whose party has endorsed the draft, appealed for tolerance at the meetings.
"I am fully committed to the constitution-making process and its successful, peaceful conclusion," he said.
"We must be peaceful to allow this process to its logical conclusion."
Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government in February 2009 in a bid to end deadly political violence in the wake of disputed elections in 2008.
Under their deal, which was brokered by regional mediators, Zimbabwe is to draft a new constitution and put it to voters in a referendum, paving the way for fresh polls.
But the process of drafting the new constitution -- which in its current form would curtail presidential powers, bolster those of parliament, set a 10-year presidential term limit and strip away presidential immunity -- was plagued by chronic delays and violence at public meetings.
The fact the constitution has not yet been finalised and that a date for a referendum has not been set has raised doubts about when elections will take place.
Mugabe, 88, has been in power since the country's independence from Britain in 1980, and has been keen to hold new elections quickly amid speculation about his health and divisions within his party.
On Monday he repeated his statement that elections will be held in March 2013.
"There will certainly be elections in March next year," he said. "We want to build the way now and also get funds and start preparing."
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