Zimbabwe has a new law that could give President Robert Mugabe a strong say in picking his successor.

The new law gives parliament - dominated by Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party - the power to elect a new president should the incumbent retire mid-term or die in office.

Mr. Mugabe is 83 years old, and some analysts have said he may use the law to pick a loyalist to replace him while keeping a measure of power for himself.

A government gazette said Thursday that the law took effect this week after Mr. Mugabe signed it.

The long-time Zimbabwean leader has already said he will seek another term in elections scheduled for next year.

The U.S. State Department said today it wants to see the next Zimbabwean president chosen in free and fair elections in which citizens can express their views without fear of intimidation.

The U.S. has been harshly critical of Mr. Mugabe for alleged human rights abuses, including a crackdown on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change that began in March.

Zimbabwe's parliament passed the presidential succession law last month, in a compromise between the MDC and ZANU-PF.

The law allows parliamentary elections to be brought forward by two years so they can be held at the same time as the presidential vote. It also expands the size of the lower house of parliament, from 150 members to 210.