A faction of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai has announced that it will launch its 2008 presidential campaign in a few weeks despite a move by the ruling party to put the ballot off until 2010.
The spokesman for President Robert Mugabe's governing ZANU-PF said meanwhile that the party would decide on the timing of the election next month following consultation with its provincial branches and the Zimbabwean people.
Chairman Isaac Matongo of Tsvangirai's MDC faction told supporters at the weekend that his party will officially launch its 2008 presidential election campaign on February 18 at the Zimbabwe Grounds stadium in Highfield, a southern suburb.
Harare correspondent Irwin Chifera of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe was present at the weekend rally and reported on Matongo's announcement.
Elsewhere, Zimbabwe Election Support Network has held consultative meetings in cities and towns around the country to solicit public views on the "harmonization" of elections proposed by ZANU-PF which would extend Mr. Mugabe's term.
Meetings in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare have drawn thousands of people, according to ZESN organizers who say the group is going ahead with preparations for presidential elections next year in accordance with the constitution as it stands.
The opposition and civil society groups are calling for a referendum on the question of changing election dates, but the ruling party to date has shown no inclination to seek a popular mandate for what many consider to be a self-serving move.
ZESN Program Manager Tsungai Kokerai, in charge of research and advocacy at the respected election-monitoring group, told reporter Carole Gombakomba that once it has gathered public input, the organization will report on public sentiment.
Meanwhile, sources close to the ruling party said support for“harmonization” is weak within ZANU-PF even though President Mugabe is pushing hard in its favor.
Eight out of 10 ZANU-PF provincial organizations backed the proposal when it was presented at the ruling party's annual conference in December. But it is customary for such resolutions at ZANU-PF annual meetings to receive unanimous support, so the conference referred the matter to the party politburo and central committee.
ZANU-PF is expected to decide next month if it will seek a constitutional amendment to change the election schedule. Party insiders report that a discussion of the matter last Wednesday by the politburo, the party's top decision-making body, was heated.
Backers of Vice President Joyce Mujuru opposed extending the president’s term while those aligned with rival presidential aspirant Emmerson Mnangagwa supported it. The sources said no consensus could be reached and the matter was deferred.
ZANU-PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the ruling party’s top decision-making body would revisit the issue next month after consultations with provincial officials and members.
National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said his group would keep resisting “harmonization” and calling for a major overhaul of the constitution.