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Delayed Zimbabwe Presidential Run-Off Ballot Could Be Called For Late June

The Zimbabwean government’s decision to extend the deadline for holding the second round of the presidential election to the end of July has drawn strong objections from the opposition, which said the second round should be held on May 23.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change expressed distrust of the motives and intentions of the ruling party in extending the deadline, and of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission under whose authority the extension was effected.

Most observers interpreted the revised 90-day deadline as running out on July 31 - though some officials said it might be interpreted as 90 working days. Nevertheless, some ruling party sources said Thursday that the run-off could be called for late June, saying an announcement by the electoral commission could come on Friday.

Secretary General Tendai Biti of the MDC formation of presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai in a news conference Thursday in Johannesburg, South Africa, expressed outrage at the extension of the deadline and urged intervention by the Southern African Development Community, as correspondent Benedict Nhlapho reported.

ZANU-PF information chief Patrick Chinamasa, also minister of justice, told journalists in Harare on Wednesday that his party had put its election strategies in place and was confident that President Robert Mugabe would be re-elected. Mr. Mugabe trailed Tsvangirai in the first round with 43.2% compared with 47.9% of votes.

The politburo of Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front on Wednesday approved the campaign theme of "100 Percent Empowerment: Total Independence."

ZANU-PF chief whip and politiburo member Joram Gumbo told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the party is geared up for the run-off.

Meanwhile, Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao of the Southern African Development Community told journalists in Maputo, Mozambique, that the burden of running credible elections is on the shoulders of the electoral commission.

The opposition has urged SADC to take an expanded role in the election to make sure that the ballot meets the regional organization's electoral norms.

But Salamao said SADC would follow the situation closely, and boost its observer corps from 120 in the March round to 200 when the presidential runoff is held.

Researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa said that for the election to be free and fair, SADC must take a prominent role.

While some sources said the electoral commission might announce a date this week, its chairman said the date will be set only when its logistics are in place.

Speaking with reporter Carole Gombakomba on Wednesday, before the news of the extension emerged, ZEC Chairman George Chiweshe said the panel will announce a date in due course, maintaining that it is permitted to do so under the law.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, meanwhile, outlined what it said were the “minimum conditions” for the runoff to be free and fair. It is calling among other items for a halt to violence against opposition supporters and election observers, equal access to state media and public resources, and greater transparency at ZEC.

ZESN Chairman Noel Kututwa said that despite the announcement of the extension, various regulatory and logistical aspects of the election remain to be clarified.

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