The Southern African Development Community holds a summit in Mauritius next week that is expected to focus on the situation in Zimbabwe, and proposed electoral reforms that would apply to all the members of the regional group. The summit is the last scheduled African forum ahead of Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections next March. Zimbabwe's opposition leaders are hoping the summit will help reform an electoral process that has been widely criticized as unfair.

Members of Zimbabwe's broad alliance of opposition forces, including trade unions, have been to Mauritius in the last week to lobby ahead of the summit.

Opposition leaders say they went to Mauritius because the SADC summit can support their efforts for the establishment of a fair electoral system for Zimbabwe.

Friday's edition of the weekly newspaper, The Financial Gazette, says a draft bill, still under consideration by the ruling Zanu PF party, contains several proposed constitutional amendments.

One of them, the paper says, would lead to the creation of a new electoral authority, which would, in the final analysis, be appointed by Mr. Mugabe.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change argues that Zimbabwe needs an electoral system that is independent of politicians. The MDC wants a body established, which would have power to run all aspects of elections, including voter registration.

The Mauritius summit will consider adoption of a protocol on elections, setting minimum norms and standards.

At two recent symposiums on elections held in Zimbabwe in the last month, Zimbabwe's electoral system has come under scrutiny from regional electoral commissioners.

Zimbabwe's last two national polls were widely criticized by Western observers, the Commonwealth and the SADC parliamentary forum.

However, South Africa said the 2002 presidential election was credible and legitimate, but not all members of its observer group supported the final report.