A lack of funds is holding back Zimbabwe's voter registration exercise, which was scheduled to kick off on January 3.
The delay in registering voters could further delay the election date.
Last week Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai held an emergency meeting with the deputy chief of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), Joyce Kazembe, and registrar general Tobaiwa Mudede in an effort to address the delay.
"The meeting was called by the prime minister to discuss the way forward because he was concerned that voter registration has been delayed," said Theresa Makone, the acting finance minister.
ZEC officials say they need $21-million to carry out voter registration over a two-month period, but the funding shortage has stalled the process. The commission's responsibility is to carry out media awareness campaigns, set up registration booths in rural and urban areas and clean up the voters' roll once the required funds are made available by the treasury.
The ZEC has indicated that the referendum on a new constitution and the elections will cost $85-million and $107-million respectively. Finance Minister Tendai Biti has, however, said that only $50-million is available for both.
Welshman Ncube, leader of the smaller Movement for Democratic Change faction, suggested earlier this month that the country should seek assistance from the Southern African Development Community and African Union to meet the shortfall. Zanu-PF refused, citing fears of "the country losing its sovereignty" should it receive help from other countries.
Sources in the MDC said that Tsvangirai, who cut short his holiday in Europe to attend to voter registration, is afraid that if he does not deal with the issue of the voters' roll, it could "haunt him" in the next election.
"That is why the PM is taking a hands-on approach and working flat out to make sure that the funds are released and the whole registration exercise rolls out," a source said."He doesn't want to take chances with the voters' roll."
Calls for change to voters' roll
Opposition parties argue that the voters' roll needs to be overhauled because it still contains the names of hundreds of dead people. The registrar general's office has resisted moves to make the roll public.
Mudede, a member of Zanu-PF, has presided over the voters' roll for more than 30 years and is widely seen by the opposition as having played an instrumental role in Mugabe's past election victories.
This week, Mudede shot down suggestions from the MDC to have an online voters' roll, which the party said would promote accountability and transparency. "The majority of the rural population has no access to the internet and will not benefit from the proposal," Mudede said.
"Online registration does not have adequate checks and balances to detect electoral fraud. There is a strong probability that some people will be involved in the abuse of passwords … and [will] corrupt the voters' roll."