HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday signed into law a new constitution and vowed to hold peaceful and clean elections later this year.
Mugabe said the new constitution, including democratic reforms and was unanimously accepted in a March referendum, has shown that Zimbabweans are united, regardless of political affiliation and was achieved without outside interference.
The constitution stipulates new voting procedures and reforms to be implemented from the signing date so that the earliest date the new elections can be held is Aug. 14.
Zimbabwe is hosting a worldwide United Nations tourism summit in mid-August, suggesting that nationwide polls will take place in September after what is expected to be the world's largest tourism exposition.
Mugabe has called for elections as early as the end of June, when the five-year term of the current Zimbabwe parliament expires and the legislature is automatically dissolved.
But, under constitutional law – both the independence constitution of 1980 and the document replacing it – an existing executive government can operate for 120 days without a parliament, making Oct. 31 the latest date that the new polls can be held.
Past elections have been mired in political violence and allegations of vote rigging.
Violent and disputed elections in 2008 led regional leaders to forge an uneasy coalition between Mugabe and the former opposition leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe on Wednesday said Zimbabwe has "matured" in the last four years of coalition rule and has been able to handle its own affairs.
The new constitution limits the presidency to two five-year terms but is not retroactive, allowing the Mugabe, 89, to run against Tsvangirai, 60, for two more five-year terms, enabling him to rule to age 99 if he wins.
"We are going to look after ourselves and supervise ourselves," said Mugabe of the impending polls. "There will be no violence and rigging. There will be truth and honesty."
Several parts of the new constitution are effective immediately with others set to come into force after the swearing in of the next elected administration.
Mugabe has repeatedly dismissed Tsvangirai's calls for reforms in the police and military widely blamed for state-orchestrated violence in previous elections.
Generals have vowed their allegiance to Mugabe and have declared they will not recognize Tsvangirai if he is elected as the next president because he did not take part in the guerilla war that end white-minority Rhodesian rule and swept Mugabe to power in 1980.
The military and police are widely blamed by human rights groups for state violence in which hundreds of opposition supporters have been killed. But on Wednesday Mugabe took a reconciliatory tone, saying that he regretted past violence and urging Zimbabweans to unite.
"I used to think Tsvangirai was evil and I will never sit next to him and he thought the same of me, but now we dine together. Our yesteryear was unsavory and unfortunate but we will try to reform to a tomorrow that is enjoyable and beneficial for everyone," he said.
Mugabe told the dominant state media run by his loyalists to stop "hate speech" against Tsvangirai.
"Why do you act like you are not educated? Let's refrain from hate speech because we now want to build our nation" he said.
The new constitution makes provisions for the repeal of sweeping security laws that police are continuing to use for arrests and intimidation of Mugabe's opponents as elections approach.
"Let's not fight," said Mugabe on Wednesday. "Let's vote in peace and recognize each other as a deserving friend, neighbor and ally of our country."