Timetale for Zim polls set
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has set out plans for a constitutional referendum in November and elections in March, a timetable that was quickly denounced by the opposition as "unrealistic".
In a High Court filing seen Thursday, Mugabe set out his most concrete timetable to date for two votes that are key to a bipartisan deal designed to stop Zimbabwe descending further into political violence.
Detailing the popular votes to be held in the next six months, Mugabe listed a "referendum, expected to take place during the first week of November."
The document also said Mugabe wanted to "hold the harmonised elections in the last week of March 2013," adding: "A proclamation to this effect will be made at the appropriate time."
The elections could be a major step towards recasting Zimbabwe's troubled political scene, choosing a successor to the shaky power-sharing government formed three years ago between Mugabe and his political nemesis, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
But Tsvangirai's allies at the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) voiced objections to Mugabe's plan.
MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora told AFP "the dates being proposed are clearly not feasible."
"The date for the election, especially, is unilateral, unrealistic and has no scientific or legal basis."
Mwonzora added his party was more concerned about conditions under which the vote takes place rather than the date. "For us to meet those dates, ZANU-PF has to change drastically," he said.
"We want elections to be held in conditions which allow the secrecy of the vote and the security of both the vote and the voter."
But there might also be good electoral reasons why the MDC wants to delay the polls.
After 32 years in power, 88-year-old Mugabe has seen his political star rise in recent months, as the rival MDC has been riven with divisions and tainted by corruption scandals.
A recent Afrobarometer poll showed the MDC and ZANU-PF running neck and neck.
Trevor Maisiri, an independent analyst with the International Crisis Group, said Mugabe's timetable "is quite feasible," although a raft of reforms will need to be introduced in quick order.
As part of the pact which gave birth to the power-sharing government the parties agreed to a raft of reforms including drafting a new constitution and tinkering security, electoral and media laws.
There are still doubts about whether a new constitution, which would include term limits, will be passed.
And elections without a new constitution could prompt objections from international observers, who argue a fair vote is not possible under current laws.
ZANU-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said the party was eager for the elections to go ahead.
"We are certainly prepared," Gumbo told AFP. "We wanted the elections this year but because of the delays this could not happen."
But there was deep scepticism over the motives for Mugabe's announcement, after a series of opaque election plans have come to nothing.
"ZANU-PF has been calling for elections since 2010, and they couldn't have their way in 2010, they couldn't have their way in 2011. March 2013 is the nearest feasible time that they can have an election," said Maisiri.
Mugabe's court filing also included a request to delay the date of three parliamentary by-elections, which he had been under High Court order to announce by Monday.
"President Mugabe might be trying to get the sympathy of the court as to why he cannot hold the by-election," said Phillan Zamchiya of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
"Mugabe and ZANU-PF are scared of holding by-election in the three constituencies... because there is no chance whatsoever of winning those constituencies."
"It will have a psychological impact and dampen the spirit of this supporters... just a few months before a process of a harmonised election."