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Election Reform Or Boycott, Vows Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Tsvangirai

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai reiterated Friday that his faction of the Movement for Democratic Change will boycott the national elections set for March 2008 if there is not significant further progress in the crisis resolution talks with the ruling ZANU-PF party being held with the help of South African mediators.

Tsvangirai's warning closely followed the declaration by President Robert Mugabe in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly saying that a recent deal between his ruling party and the opposition on a compromise version of an amendment to the constitution showed the country was well on its way to democratic elections.

Tsvangirai told African envoys that his opposition faction won't participate in the March balloting unless the Pretoria talks yield major improvements in election conditions.

Tsvangirai and rival opposition faction leader Arthur Mutambara have warned before that their participation in elections is contingent on reforms of electoral laws and firm assurances that Harare will not tilt the playing field as it is alleged to have done in previous elections including the 2000 general and 2002 presidential election.

The constitutional amendment will add 60 seats to the lower house of parliament, but there will be 90 additional constituencies to contest - another 30 seats previously filled by presidential appointment or ex officio will now be electively filled. Skeptics say the ruling party is likely to use the creation of new constituencies to gerrymander.

Web-based news agency ZimOnline quoted Tsvangirai as telling the envoys that the amendment deal was a “confidence building” exercise to test ZANU-PF sincerity.

Tsvangirai spokesman William Bango told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that issues like emigré voting rights and the repeal of repressive laws like the Public Order and Security Act remain to be dealt with in the negotiations.

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