Voting was underway in Zimbabwe on Saturday in a referendum on a new Constitution — a crucial milestone in the political development of the crisis-weary African country.

The new Constitution grants more power to Parliament and offers additional rights to women but would not hinder President Robert Mugabe, 89, from running for high office again. He has been at the helm of Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980.

With both Mr. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and arch rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) having thrown their weight behind the draft document, the referendum is expected to easily pass.

Some non-governmental groups charge that the document does not go far enough in supporting civil liberties and say that the impunity of the security forces has yet to be addressed. However, they failed to garner resources to launch a “no” campaign.

The Constitution will pave the way for Presidential and General Elections later this year, which will likely end the coalition between Zanu-PF and two MDC factions in place since 2009.

The coalition was formed under pressure from regional powers following violent elections in 2008, with much of the abuse targeting the MDC.

The 9,456 polling stations across the country will be open from 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) until 7 p.m. Provisional results are expected on Sunday and the final results later in the week.

Voter turnout in the southern African nation of 12 million is not expected to be high, owing to political apathy and an expectation that the referendum will pass.


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