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Zimbabwe ‘ready’ for referendum despite cash crunch

Cash-squeezed Zimbabwe has resorted to cutting allowances for election officials as it struggles to pay for a constitutional referendum later this week, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Monday.

The country goes to the polls on Saturday to adopt or reject a new supreme law, but faces a serious cash crunch after years of economic stasis.

“We are rationalising, particularly on allowances, scaling down costs to realistic levels,” Biti said.

He admitted that organising two sets of votes this year — the referendum on Saturday and elections slated for July — will prove tough.

“Things are excruciatingly tight,” he said.

He was however optimistic that “Zimbabwe will hold a successful referendum.”

Treasury has so far released $31 million to print ballot papers, buy indelible voting ink and for the transport and training of polling officers, the minister said.

A further $40 million would be raised through treasury bills to cover other costs of the referendum.

But the $132 million price tag for elections will be tougher to match.

“As far as elections are concerned there is a real challenge,” Biti said. “The support of the international community is critical.”

An appeal has been sent to the UN for election funding.

The election, which Biti says is a “make-or-break” vote will end the wobbly coalition government of veteran President Robert Mugabe and long-time rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have endorsed the draft constitution, which limits the presidential tenure to two five-year terms, curtails presidential powers and abolishes the post of prime minister.