Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Finance Minister Tendai Biti and the chairman of the relatively newly formed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission have opened consultations on 2011 elections in the clearest sign yet that the nation is gearing up for a new round of balloting next year.
Sources said Biti met Mr. Mugabe on Tuesday and the two discussed the budget for an election which the finance minister projected will cost some US$200 million. But Biti also indicated that the Treasury is short on funds and raising such an amount would seriously challenge his ministry.
The government has secured only about US$2 billion from donors toward its US$10 billion target aimed at reviving the economy. Biti has been firming up loan commitments from Botswana and South Africa.
President Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, president of the Movement for Democratic Change party of which Biti is secretary general, have both signaled elections in 2011 are desirable to resolve deadlocks on a broad range of issues that have developed under power sharing.
But critics say the polarized nation is not ready for a fresh poll. Fresh in the minds of the Zimbabweans is the deadly violence witnessed in the run-up to the June 2008 presidential run-off pitting Mr Mugabe against Mr. Tsvangirai, who pulled out days before the ballot over the wave of violence.
Insiders say the election could be held after a constitutional referendum early next year - though the country will only complete a public outreach phase of the revision process this month, with data from the exercise remaining to be compiled and the referendum on the draft constitution organized.
ZEC Chairman Simpson Mutambanengwe told VOA that he has yet to hear from the unity government principals on the proposed elections but will be meeting them soon.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network Director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava reiterated the position of her organization that 2011 is too soon for new national elections to be held.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Zimbabwe, meanwhile, is stepping up pressure on the unity government to open up the airwaves and license private sector radio and television stations before the new elections are held. The group was kicking off its drive on Saturday in Chitungwiza.
MISA said its “Free the Airwaves” campaign will engage all three unity government parties to urge them to deliver on their promise of rapidly liberalizing the media sector. Reform to date has been limited to the licensing of several new daily newspapers to compete with the state-controlled Herald.
MISA-Zimbabwe Director Nhlanhla Ngwenya told VOA Studio 7 reporter reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that his group wants to see private television and radio stations in operation before the next ballot.
Elsewhere, Tsvangirai said in remarks delivered in a public lecture in Harare on Thursday that it is in the interest of President Mugabe to manage the country’s transition to leave a credible personal legacy.
VOA Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported on Mr. Tsvangirai's address.