/ 17 January 2008

Zim opposition push for vote delay

Zimbabwe’s opposition urged South African President Thabo Mbeki on Thursday to try to persuade his counterpart, Robert Mugabe, to delay elections due in March, opposition and government sources said.

Mbeki held three hours of talks with Mugabe at State House in Harare before then meeting with officials from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at the South African embassy, Agence France-Presse correspondents reported.

While there was no official word on the talks before a scheduled press conference with Mugabe and Mbeki, insiders said the MDC had lobbied for the joint presidential and parliamentary elections to be held back.

”The opposition is trying to get President Mbeki to persuade President Mugabe to postpone the poll but I doubt if the president [Mugabe] will agree to this,” a Zimbabwean government official told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

An MDC official, meanwhile, confirmed the party did not want the elections to be held before a new constitution is put in place, something for which Mugabe has shown little enthusiasm.

”The main issue which we feel has to be addressed is the issue of the constitution, then we can start talking about the elections,” he said.

”We would be happy to have the elections any time after March but we feel March is too early.”

Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, has yet to set a date for the elections when he will seek a sixth term at the helm of the country grappling with the world’s highest rate of inflation.

The MDC, which accuses the 83-year-old of fixing his last re-election, has warned Mugabe not to rig the outcome this time if he wants to avoid a repeat of the recent violence that followed disputed elections in Kenya.

Mbeki was tasked by fellow leaders of the Southern African Development Community with mediating between the ruling Zanu-PF and the MDC after several opposition leaders were beaten up by security services. — AFP