Zimbabwean Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has declared that the government will turn its attention to a new constitution only after elections in March - a statement that opposition and civic leaders have taken as a repudiation of political dialogue.
Chinimasa’s statement came on the heels of an announcement by President Robert Mugabe last week that presidential, general and local elections will be held March 29, rebuffing opposition demands that the ballots be postponed until negotiations for a political accord resolving the country's longstanding crisis could be completed.
Sources in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said the party has been caught off guard by unilateral decisions by Mr. Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party following 10 months of discussions in the South African-mediated negotiations.
Chinamasa, chief ruling party negotiator in the talks, said that although ZANU_PF has rejected the opposition demand that a new constitution be adopted before elections are held, he considers the talks with the opposition to remain on course.
“As far as we are concerned the dialogue that is being facilitated by South Africa is still ongoing," Chinimasa said, maintaining that ZANU-PF is "committed to an irreversible process that will result in the presentation of a draft constitution for national consultation."
But Secretary General Welshman Ncube of the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Arthur Mutambara and Secretary General Tendai Biti of the MDC grouping headed by Morgan Tsvangirai said ZANU-PF is dealing in bad faith.
Biti told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Chinamasa’s pronouncement on the constitution violated the rules of engagement for the negotiations. Ncube said the talks are “dead and waiting for burial.”
Meanwhile, National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku urged the two MDC formations to declare an end to the talks and boycott the elections.
Madhuku said ZANU-PF is insincere in saying it will pursue the adoption of a new constitution following the elections.