Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has appointed a committee to oversee voting boundaries for the general election next year. The opposition says appointment of the committee, without consultation, is a violation of electoral principles that Mr. Mugabe agreed to at a recent regional summit.

Mr. Mugabe has appointed high court Judge George Chiweshe to head a commission to draw up constituency boundaries for the general election next March. Mr. Chiweshe's impartiality has long been questioned by legal analysts and human rights lawyers.

Zimbabwe's main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, charged that the Mugabe-appointed commission will not be impartial.

The MDC's legal secretary, David Coltart, said Mr. Mugabe had agreed, at the recent Southern African Development Community summit, that next year's election would be overseen by impartial electoral authorities to ensure that it would be free and fair. Creation of the new commission, Mr. Coltart says, goes against what Mr. Mugabe signed on to.

In August, the MDC said it had suspended participation in all elections until the government reformed election laws and repeals what it terms repressive media and security laws.

The MDC is concerned about the drawing up of voting districts in Zimbabwe. It says establishing voting boundaries is vital to a fair election because most urban dwellers support the opposition, and many rural areas support the ruling ZANU-PF. In the disputed presidential elections of 2002, hundreds of thousands of potential urban voters were refused registration or were turned away on polling day.

Reginald Matchaba Hove, chairman of the non-governmental organization Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, said the appointment of the commission, without consultation, was a betrayal of the commitment Mr. Mugabe made at the SADC summit to adhere to its electoral principals.