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Zimbabwe: Mugabe Pins Down Election Date, Opposition Weighing Participation

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has announced the date for the country's general election. But , the main opposition party is still deciding on its participation.

Zimbabweans will go to the polls to choose new parliamentary representatives on March 31. The much awaited date was announced by President Robert Mugabe in a government proclamation. But the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change suggests that the poll be postponed to June this year.

The MDC suspended participation in all elections last August, pressuring Mr. Mugabe to implement changes to the electoral laws that would, in its words, "level the playing field". The MDC charged then that taking part in polls without electoral-law reform guaranteed victory for Mr. Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party. The changes demanded by the MDC include access to the public media, campaigning without being harassed by the police, and an independent electoral commission. These changes are in line with the election guidelines of the Southern African Development Community, a regional body to which Zimbabwe belongs.

The government has since announced an electoral body whose members were chosen from a list submitted to Mr. Mugabe by the members of the MDC and the Zanu-PF. The head of the commission was appointed by Mr. Mugabe. The MDC says this compromises the independence of the electoral body.

The MDC, under pressure from regional leaders and some of its members to take part in the election, is expected to announce whether it will participate in the next few days.