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Zimbabwe Ruling Party Elements Intent on Postponing 2008 Presidential Ballot

Elements of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party appear intent upon amending the constitution to postpone the presidential election due in 2008 by two years, and have given the country's attorney general a draft amendment, ruling party sources said.

Though the purported aim is to harmonize presidential and parliamentary voting in the interest of saving public funds, opposition critics and political analysts say the initiative is motivated by the desire to extend the term of President Robert Mugabe to avoid a presidential vote amid economic distress, and to push off succession battles.

ZANU-PF Information Secretary Nathan Shamuyarira said the process will be a long one. But there is little doubt among observers that ZANU-PF with its two-thirds majority in parliament can pass the measure to postpone presidential voting to 2010.

But there are signs the ruling party is not uniformly in favor of postponing the election. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, also party secretary for administration, said they were unaware of the proposed amendment.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has also vowed to resist the move to amend the constitution. Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the faction led by founding MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai, admitted his party has no hope of blocking the measure in parliament, but vowed to fight it outside the Harare legislature.

A senior ZANU-PF source said the proposal, which the ruling party's politburo took up Wednesday, is causing divisions in the party. The source said Mugabe’s reluctance to state when he will step down is also having a destabilizing effect on the party.

Shamuyarira told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that a draft of the proposed amendment has been dispatched the attorney general's office.

For a civil society perspective on the proposal, Zulu turned to National Constitutional Assembly spokesman Ernest Mudzengi, who said the amendment is a desperate attempt to ensure President Mugabe has a safe exit from office.

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