President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has given the green light to broad electoral reform, according to sources in his ruling ZANU-PF party who say Mr. Mugabe has recognized that clear progress on this front must be made if the Southern African region and the West are to come through with an economic rescue package.
The government is expected to table the so-called Electoral Laws Amendment Bill in parliament when it reconvenes on Nov. 20, political sources said.
Among other provisions, the bill would oblige state-run media to provide free and fair access to opposition parties, bar soldiers, police and other state security agents from polling places during elections, remove polling stations from locations susceptible to pro-government pressure such as army barracks and traditional chief homesteads, and increase the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
Ruling party insiders say some top ZANU-PF officials opposed the reforms mooted in South African mediated crisis resolution talks, the president endorsed them late last month with support from Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa - lead negotiator in the Pretoria talks - and brought the party's central committee and politiburo on board.
Some in the ruling party fear that if elections in 2008 are internationally condemned, Zimbabwe could fall much deeper into a crisis that is already profound.
Other reform items are likely to be added to the amendment bill once talks between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change resume next month.
Sources close to the talks say negotiators have already agreed a number of reforms.
Lawmaker Tongai Mathuthu of the opposition faction headed by by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the media reforms in particular will be welcome if they are implemented.