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 CNS Story:

ZIMBABWE-VOTE Mar-21-2013 (450 words) xxxi

Bishops urge peace, tolerance as Zimbabwe readies for general elections

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- General elections in Zimbabwe, expected in the second half of the year, will be as important in determining the country's destiny as the 1980 vote that led to independence from Great Britain, said the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Zimbabwe "needs to close the door to political intolerance, violence, impunity, lack of transparency and accountability, intimidation, corruption and open another (door) to a true democratic dispensation," Zimbabwe's eight bishops said in a mid-March pastoral letter.

"Many are hoping that the elections in 2013 will be free and fair to enable the rehabilitation of the country into the international community," they said. "Free and fair elections should be possible with a new constitution and the necessary reforms in place."

In a referendum March 16, Zimbabweans approved a constitution that was backed by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, political rivals who were forced into a power-sharing deal after disputed elections in 2008.

The constitution sets a maximum of two five-year terms for the president, but the limit will not apply retroactively. Mugabe, 89, has been in power since 1980 and has said he will run again for office.

Presidential decrees will require majority backing in the Cabinet, and the declaration of emergency rule or the dissolution of Parliament will need the approval of two-thirds of lawmakers. The changes will take effect after the general election.

"2013 offers Zimbabwe a second chance," the bishops said, citing the violence that erupted after the disputed 2008 election.

The violence waned in 2009 after the formation of the unity government.

While the memory of violence "makes many apprehensive at the mention of fresh elections," many also want to move forward boldly, the bishops said.

The last decade "has seen the politicization of the whole country, including churches," the bishops added, saying they "long for a day when Zimbabweans can begin to live their normal lives again as brothers and sisters and not primarily as political and politicking creatures."

The bishops called for the country to move beyond its problems, including partisan governance, corruption, mass emigration, hate speech, and tribal and ethnic divisions.

"The church has been empowering communities with peace-building capacities as a way of healing the wounded" as well as "preventing a recurrence of violence," the bishops said.

This work to facilitate forgiveness, national healing and reconciliation will continue in an effort to cultivate a culture of peace, they said.

The bishops called for tolerance and reminded Zimbabweans of the importance of credible electoral processes. They urged people to maintain a "peaceful atmosphere" throughout the election period.

"The violence and intimidation that have been witnessed in the past dishonor our democratic aspirations as a nation," they said.


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