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Zimbabwe Ruling Party Mobilizes for Senate Poll

Zimbabwe’s ruling party has announced that it will not hold internal primary elections before the national senate elections that President Robert Mugabe has directed be moved up to the end of November from mid-December as earlier scheduled.

Amid reports of factional divisions within theZimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, party officials said candidates will be chosen at district and provincial levels.

But one Zimbabwean elections expert warns that bypassing primaries will diminish the transparency of the process, and lead to heightened factionalism in the party.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network Chairman Reginald Matchaba Hove further said advancing the election date complicates preparations for the ballot, as the Movement for Democratic Change opposition party has yet to decide if it will field candidates. It questions the legitimacy of the senate, and the good faith of the government.

Fifty members of the new senate will be directly elected in the ballot, while President Mugabe will select another 16 for a total of 66 seats.

Mr. Hove’s organization mustered up some 6,000 poll monitors in the March 31 general election, but he said it will only monitor the senate vote if the MDC takes part in it. Beyond this, Mr. Hove said that the current economic crisis in the country, where fuel and food are in critically short supply, further complicates matters.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with ZANU-PF senior official William Nhara, principal public affairs director in the president’s office.

Mr. Nhara said the only major challenge facing the ruling party is candidate selection, but added that this should be completed within the next two weeks.

A senior opposition official said the opposition won’t be pressured into contesting the senate election election simply because the president has moved up the date.

Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu asked MDC Legal Affairs Secretary David Coltart if the new proposed election date seems intended to force the MDC’s hand.

Elsewhere, a Finance Ministry official says the president has demanded Z$200 billion ($2.65 million) funding by the end of this month for the senate elections – significantly more than the Z$30 million which was initially budgeted when the ruling party revived the senate with one of several constitutional amendments passed in August.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, this ministry source said most of the money would be spent on fuel and other logistical expenses. The official said the government will also spend heavily on media ads to encourage a strong popular turnout.

Reporter Blessing Zulu asked Zimbabwe Election Support Network Chairman Reginald Matchaba Hove if such costs are warranted under current economic conditions.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...