The faction of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai is planning a march later this month to protest the government’s insistence that elections must be held in March over objections that crisis talks are still in progress and accords, if reached, will require time to be implemented.
Negotiators for both factions of the MDC and for the ruling ZANU-PF party have been in crisis resolution talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki since last March. But the talks have deadlocked over the related issues as to the timing of the election and the adoption of a new constitution which exists in draft form.
MDC sources said the protest is scheduled for January 23. If approved by police, the march will begin at the Tsvangirai MDC formation's headquarters in Harvest House and proceed through the city center to the Harare Show Grounds.
Apart from pressuring the government to postpone the elections, the opposition said it will also focus public attention on deteriorating economic and social conditions.
Senior officials from both MDC factions expressed irritation that President Robert Mugabe has not yet signed into law amendments to several key laws which parliament passed last month in an unprecedented burst of bipartisanship.
The two houses fast-tracked amendments to the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Amendment act, as well as legislation regarding the conduct of elections.
A senior official of the ruling ZANU-PF party said the opposition is wasting its time protesting because the elections will not be put off beyond March. The government has not yet set a specific date for the local, general and presidential elections.
Political analyst and lawyer Teressa Mugadza told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that holding the elections in March is impractical because so much essential business related to the elections remain to be completed.
While objecting to the March election date, the Tsvangirai MDC faction is nonetheless moving ahead with electoral initiatives, proposing on Saturday to launch an outreach program it calls the “New Zimbabwe Campaign,” demanding free and fair elections.
The campaign will kick off at Stodart Hall in Harare's populous Mbare district, but the opposition grouping said it will focus on rural districts where it plans to hold some 300 rallies by month's end. The ruling party's hold on the electorate is strongest in rural areas, while Harare, Bulawayo and most other cities are opposition-dominated.
The Tsvangirai MDC grouping said it will urge action to halt the economic meltdown and advocate a united front with civic groups while soliciting input from voters.
Tsvangirai formation deputy spokeswoman Tabitha Khumalo told reporter Patience Rusere that if state agents interfere with the MDC faction's rallies, this will indicate that the governing party is not serious about South African-mediated crisis talks.
The ruling party, meanwhile, is also gearing up its election campaign. Its provincial leaders met Thursday at ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare to plan strategy.
ZANU-PF Secretary for the Commissariat Elliot Manyika told journalists that once the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has finalized redistricting to add 60 seats to the lower house, the ruling party will hold "consensus" primary elections to select candidates.
Secret ballots will only be cast if party members cannot agree on a candidate.
Manyika said ZANU-PF will not only maintain but try to expand its quota system for female candidates, and will try to increase the involvement of young people.
Political commentator Chido Makunike told reporter Carole Gombakomba that the ruling party's approach suggests it is not focused on the country's problems and does not feel that it faces a serious opposition challenge in the upcoming elections.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...