President Robert Mugabe believes elections can be held in Zimbabwe in March next year, but his opponents and election watchdogs say a new poll under current conditions will again be riddled with violence and fraud.
There are too many reforms still to be made before a free and fair election can be held, critics say. They argue that the unity government was originally created to ease tensions enough to allow the parties to work out reforms towards fresh elections whose outcome would not be contested.
Mugabe is keen to hold elections quickly, hoping to rid himself of the coalition and regain complete power. But the Southern African Development Community has asked Zimbabwean parties to draw up a road map towards elections. At their last summit, the SADC heads of state urged the coalition partners "to develop a road map with timelines that are guided by the requirements of the processes necessary for the adoption of the constitution and the creation of conditions for free and fair elections to be held".
But the road to new elections is blocked by the absence of required reforms and a lack of funding.
Zanu-PF has rejected a draft constitution compiled by an interparty committee that included its own members. This has stalled progress towards adopting a new constitution.
The draft must be taken to an "all-stakeholders conference" later this month for debate. The conference should include all parties, as well as other interested groups. This is the second such conference – the first ended in chaos after Zanu-PF militants violently disrupted the event and there are fears of a repeat.
The conference is aimed at making changes to the draft constitution before it is presented to Parliament, after which a referendum will be held, leading to elections.
Mugabe's target for a November referendum will likely be missed, according to Welshman Ncube, leader of one faction of the MDC and a key negotiator in the reform process.
"Elections will never be held in March next year, because we have missed several deadlines already. As it is, the second stakeholders conference has been postponed to the end of October, which means we are unlikely to have a referendum until mid-December," said Ncube.
Funding the election
With no donor aid, Zimbabwe is struggling to raise cash for the elections. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission's acting chairperson, Joyce Kazembe, said $104million was needed to hold the referendum.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti has had to dip into International Monetary Fund money, setting aside $100million for the election. But a senior commission official believes the total bill for the poll will likely be up to three times that amount.
Zimbabwe already has a $400million budget deficit and has approached neighbours, including South Africa, for aid. The IMF has warned Zimbabwe that it might have to seek foreign funding to run the election, but Zanu-PF is opposed to soliciting Western aid for the polls.
Still, Zanu-PF insists that elections must be held by March.
"If they [the MDC] do not want elections, they should not participate," said Zanu-PF administration secretary Didymus Mutasa.
According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, the country's independent election monitor, an audit of the voter's roll showed that 27% of the people it listed were dead. This, the network said, showed that no credible elections could be held by March.
According to legal watchdog Veritas, compiling a new voter's roll would take "at least six months" and other electoral reforms are also needed.
Although Mugabe has frequently called for an end to violence, his opponents say recent attacks by his supporters indicate a repeat of the 2008 violence.
Morgan Tsvangirai's supporters were attacked two weeks ago while travelling to their party's 13th-anniversary celebrations in Bulawayo, just days after militants attacked a rally held by the other MDC party.
Media reform is one of the main issues on the unity government's agenda. Two new national radio stations were recently licensed, although media group Misa-Zimbabwe says they are run by pro-Zanu-PF operators. Zanu-PF also retains control of the state broadcaster and no private television stations have been licensed.
Laws that restrict free expression remain and arrests for "insulting the president" are frequent.
After weeks of damaging personal scandals, Tsvangirai received a lift recently when thousands of his most fervent supporters gathered for his party's anniversary in Bulawayo.
A Freedom House survey had showed that his party was losing support due to his failure to push through reforms and crack down on corruption in municipalities run by his party.
But an apology he made for his behaviour, said party spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora, would see his stock rise. Mwonzora said the large crowd at the rally showed that the prime minister "remains the people's hope" for unseating Mugabe.
The message of change will once again be at the centre of Tsvangirai's campaign. The party has been criticised for not having any policy beyond ousting Mugabe, but the MDC calculates that Zimbabweans are so desperate to get rid of Mugabe that its "change" platform is still relevant.
Zanu-PF will rely on its old methods to garner support: land reform and black empowerment. These policies are widely criticised for stifling investment and hurting the economy, but they resonate with Mugabe's support base.
Some believe that Mugabe will also rely on violence and fear, which returned him to power after his first-round loss in 2008.
The party is also working overtime to seize the urban vote from the MDC. This strategy includes housing co-operatives, whereby Zanu-PF allocates plots of land to the poor on the verges of the city, provided they join the party. It has worked before: Zanu-PF won its only urban seat, Harare South, after turning an area just south of the capital into a maze of hundreds of informal settlements run by its enforcers.
Zanu-PF is now spreading this plan elsewhere. The party reportedly believes it has gained 175 000 new members from the scheme. Last week, the mayor of Harare said the city had run out of land to dole out to the co-operatives.
The smaller faction of the MDC claims it has been gaining support over recent months. Its leader, Welshman Ncube, said he believed voters were moving away from the "anything but Mugabe" politics and would be more "perceptive" in the next election.
Although the recent Freedom House survey showed that open support for the "middle ground" had shrunk even further, Ncube said the 47% that the survey showed was "undecided" gave him hope.
The party also runs on the "change" platform, but hopes to take advantage of doubts over Tsvangirai's leadership. Ncube could garner much support in the Matabeleland region.