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Hardliners in Zimbabwean President Mugabe's Party Insist On Early Constitutional Referendum, Election

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, right, chats to Prime Minister Morgan Tsavangirai during their end of year press conference at State House in Harare, saying they were dispelling rumors of disunity in the Government of National Unity, Dec. 20, 2010

Though ZANU-PF is pushing for an early referendum, Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga of Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation has said he will not be pressured into accelerating the schedule

As the parliamentary committee in charge of revising Zimbabwe's constitution moves to digest public opinion collected in an outreach phase last year, parties sharing power in the country's unity government are arguing about when a referendum can be held.

Hardliners in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party are pushing for a vote in June despite increasing pressure in the party and outside it for a later ballot, while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's formation of the Movement for Democratic Change is talking about a referendum in September, which seems a more likely timeline.

Political sources said the ZANU-PF hardliners, led by Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and members of the Joint Operations Command comprising security service chiefs, are demanding a referendum for the constitution be held in June with a fresh round of presidential and general elections before the end of the year.

Facing intense pressure for a slower pace toward elections from the Southern African Development Community, Mr. Mugabe is said to be amenable to a delay. SADC wants to see broader political and electoral reforms before the next elections are held.

A ZANU-PF conference late last year resolved to hold elections by June. ZANU-PF has accused the MDC of working with Western donors to delay the process of revising the constitution, and said elections will be held with or without a new document.

But Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga of Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation has said he will not be pushed into accelerating the election schedule.

The ZANU-PF co-chairman of the parliamentary select committee running constitutional revision, Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana, said the process should be done by June.

But Douglas Mwonzora, select committee co-chairman from the Tsvangirai MDC wing, told VOA reporter Blessing Zulu that his panel will adhere to the sequential timelines set out in the 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing - though in theory the drafting of the constitution should have been completed late last year.