The Zimbabwean government has said general elections slated for next March will not be moved to a later date to accommodate the opposition.
The announcement was made by Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge to Non-Aligned Movement diplomats Monday in Harare. Mr. Mudenge was responding to news reports that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai wants the elections postponed to later next year.
In a report in the government-owned daily newspaper, The Herald, Mr. Mudenge said it would be beyond the government's constitutional mandate to put off the elections. He said if the government did that, it would be attacked for what he called remaining in power without the people's mandate.
The minister said from the government's point of view, since the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had not ask parliament for the postponement, it is still speculation. But he said the MDC would have to give convincing and powerful reasons to justify delaying the elections.
He said the opposition was given 12 months to prepare for the elections, adding that even if the poll was postponed for six months the opposition party would ask for more time.
Mr. Tsvangirai expressed his desire to have the elections postponed during a trip to South Africa last month. He said he was concerned there might not be sufficient time to implement the sort of institutional changes that are required to run a free and fair election.
The MDC is demanding that the government implement the Southern African Development Community guidelines on democratic elections. The Southern African Development Community is a group of 14 southern African countries. Zimbabwe signed the group's electoral guidelines.
One of the SADC requirements is that opposition parties have access to the public media.
Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge said opposition parties will be accorded access to public media during elections. He criticized the European Union for saying opposition parties are denied time and space on the public media while stations such as VOA's Studio 7 are, in his words, bombarding Zimbabweans with anti-government propaganda on a daily basis.
The government has said it will make some changes to the electoral laws, but the opposition says these do not go far enough. Last August, the opposition party announced it would not participate in any elections until the Southern African Development Community standards are implemented.