Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s insistence elections will be held in March has sparked objections from the opposition, which says South African-mediated crisis talks must be completed and a new constitution adopted before polls can be held.
But the outlook for finishing the talks any time soon is not very good. Sources say that an impasse has developed with negotiators for the ruling party insisting that ZANU-PF will not agree to put a new constitution in place before the elections.
This raises the prospect of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change staging a boycott of the elections for lack of a level playing field. Negotiations in Pretoria have been stormy lately, sources close to the talks say, even as South African mediators press for conclusion by what now seems an impossible deadline on Saturday.
The MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara dismissed reports that its negotiator in the talks, faction Secretary General Welshman Ncube, walked out of the negotiations on Tuesday. Harare's Independent newspaper reported that Ncube stormed out “after sharp differences emerged” with the two negotiators for the ruling party.
Mutambara grouping spokesman Gabriel Chaibva said that to the contrary, the talks were going on smoothly and Ncube would be "the last person" to walk out of the talks. But informed sources said the talks had entered a very rough patch and could hit a dead end unless the ruling party shows more willingness to compromise.
Chaibva told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his grouping will only agree to elections in March if the playing field has been leveled.
Speaking for the formation of MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai, Thabitha Khumalo said President Mugabe’s insistence on elections in March shows the ruling party is not serious about the crisis talks, which should determine the poll date.
Observers saw Mr. Mugabe's declaration as a serious blow to the crisis talks, as is the position taken recently by the ruling party negotiators that the discussions are a work in progress and accords can be implemented after the elections
For perspective on the rapidly evolving situation, reporter Blessing Zulu turned to lawyer and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Coordinator Jacob Mafume, and researcher Chris Maroleng of South Africa's Institute for Security Studies. Maroleng said it is not realistic to expect free and fair elections can be held just three months from now.