The main opposition party in Zimbabwe is getting ready for its court case challenging last year's presidential election. The case is scheduled to go to court in about two weeks, but the party fears it could be delayed yet again.

Two senior leaders of the Zimbabwean Movement for Democratic Change told reporters in Johannesburg that they are afraid the court case challenging the election could be put off again if there is not pressure from the international community to keep the trial on schedule.

The opposition party filed its court case in April of last year, after President Robert Mugabe was declared the winner of an election that several international observer missions called deeply flawed.

MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said the party has had to file several legal motions just to get the case into court, despite a provision in the country's Electoral Act requiring election disputes to be handled quickly. "The very fact that it has taken over 18 months for the case to come to court is a serious indictment against the state of Zimbabwe's democracy," he said.

Both the South African embassy and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches have been shuttling back and forth between the Movement for Democratic Change and President Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, in a joint attempt to get some kind of dialogue going. So far they have had little success.

There are reports that so-called "talks-about-talks" are happening at some level, but it is not clear how much progress they are making.

Critics have said the electoral challenge is increasing tensions in Zimbabwe and interfering with attempts to mediate talks between the opposition and ZANU-PF.

Movement for Democratic Change officials dismissed that criticism. Mr. Nyathi says the MDC is exercising its democratic right to challenge the election.

The party's secretary for legal affairs, David Coltart, said it has offered to postpone the court action if there is a breakthrough in talks with ZANU-PF. But he says dropping the case completely is out of the question for now. "The case is in fact our only peaceful weapon, and so we cannot drop that case unless we can be assured that the discussion, the talking process is irreversible," he said.

Mr. Coltart says he is afraid ZANU-PF and government officials are not taking the case very seriously. He says the High Court has not yet appointed a judge to handle the trial, even though the opening arguments are scheduled for November 3.

The opposition official says he does not believe the electoral challenge will lead to a solution to what he calls the Zimbabwe crisis. With the economy on the brink of collapse, he says, the two sides will have to hammer out some kind of political solution long before the court case is over.