Responding to President Robert Mugabe's recent demand that new national elections be held no later than March 2012, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has responded that a new ballot can only be held once key reforms have been put in place and the timing of the poll is endorsed by the Southern African Development Community, among others.
Addressing a rally in Harare on Saturday marking the 12th anniversary of the founding of his former opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Mr. Tsvangirai said that only when preconditions for elections have been satisfied can they be held.
"We want an election, but it must be an election that has the support of SADC, [the African Union] and the United Nations," Mr. Tsvangirai told the crowd filling Gwanzura Stadium in the Harare suburb of Highfield, scene of many political clashes.
"There are certain steps that must be taken for you to go to an election. There is a road map to elections," Mr. Tsvangirai said, noting the need for a referendum to approve the new constitution as yet not drafted, revision of the voters roll, and the overhaul of the Zimbabwe Election Commission to ensure a nonpartisan administrative staff.
President Mugabe told a national consultative assembly of his ZANU-PF party September 2 that he intended to announce a date for elections in 2012 without consulting the two formations of the MDC with which ZANU-PF has shared power since 2009.
Mr. Mugabe said that elections should be held no later than March 2012.
He added this week that he would not admit election observers from the European Union or any countries that have imposed travel and financial sanctions on himself and other senior ZANU-PF officials over alleged human rights violations and electoral fraud.
The state-controlled Herald newspaper said he made the comments after accepting the credentials of the new British ambassador to Harare, Deborah Bronnert.
Mr. Mugabe expelled European Union election observers during the 2002 presidential election, contested by the MDC which alleged ballot-rigging.
He told the British envoy however that the door is open for dialogue with the United Kingdom, especially now that the Conservatives are in power. Mr. Mugabe in the past reserved some of his most vitriolic comments for Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In Highfield on Saturday, Mr. Tsvangirai tacitly criticized Mr. Mugabe, deploring the wide policy differences in the unity government that have hindered the economic recovery.
"That kind of policy conflict and discord cannot create confidence in our country at a time when we need to expand the cake, when we need to expand the job opportunities in the country. The biggest time bomb we face is when these young persons are educated and unemployed. So we cannot afford policy conflict. So we cannot afford to undermine the confidence in our country. We need more investment, not less."
He urged his supporters to remain resolute, saying the MDC was on the verge of forming the next government, which he said would bolster investor confidence.
Despite fears that youth militants of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF might seek to disrupt the rally following a rash of violent incidents in Harare in the past week, witnesses said there were only minor scuffles outside Gwanzura Stadium - though reports said two unnamed MDC members were abducted on their way to the celebration.
Sources said some of the violence occurred between MDC factions.