Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has instructed civil servants to begin preparing for a general election. Mr. Mugabe's call comes two years before parliamentary elections are scheduled.
Mr. Mugabe is on the campaign trail, even though the next major elections are not until 2005. He is on a tour of the country, and on Sunday he announced that departments that control elections should immediately begin preparing voters' rolls and making other arrangements for elections.
To some political analysts, Mr. Mugabe's announcement seems to be part of a plan for his honorable exit from power.
In an interview Monday, political analyst Brian Kagoro, a long-time human rights activist, said he expected Mr. Mugabe to remove himself gradually from the political spotlight.
In the scenario outlined by Mr. Kagoro, the long-time president of Zimbabwe would reform the constitution by abolishing the post of executive president - the position he now holds - and would bring back the post of prime minister. He would then appoint one of his closest aides as prime minister, and finish his six-year term as president in a purely ceremonial role.
According to Mr. Kagoro, by removing himself from power, Mr. Mugabe would satisfy the wishes of regional leaders, who have come to consider him a liability. And once Mr. Mugabe is no longer leading Zimbabwe, said Mr. Kagoro, the international community would be able to lift sanctions against leaders in the ruling ZANU-PF party, and begin restoring aid and financial support for bankrupt Zimbabwe. Most foreign agencies have suspended aid to Zimbabwe in response to Mr. Mugabe's autocratic policies.
For the last two Saturdays, the state-controlled Herald newspaper has run long biographies and interviews with two men who are considered Mr. Mugabe's preferred candidates for the job of prime minister.
One is the speaker of the parliament, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the other is a former home affairs minister, John Nkomo, who is now a minister in the president's office.
Other political analysts do not go into the detail that Mr. Kagoro does in predicting Mr. Mugabe's political maneuvers, but most believe he will call early parliamentary elections, hoping to win a two-thirds majority.
Such a majority would allow him and his ruling ZANU-PF party to change the constitution, without needing any support from opposition members of parliament.
For Mr. Kagoro and virtually all other analysts in Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe's main aim is to ensure that his ruling ZANU-PF retains hold on all the major institutions of power, and does it in such a way as to satisfy African leaders in the region.