Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change on Wednesday suspended participation in all national and local government elections. The MDC says it has taken this dramatic step to force the government to implement electoral reforms.

The MDC, which will be five years old next month, says it will not take part in future elections until the Zimbabwe government overhauls all its election laws to conform with protocols adopted by the Southern African Development Community summit in Mauritius last week.

President Robert Mugabe signed the protocols and has promised electoral reform, but so far, has not put forward any proposals to implement the protocol. MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said the opposition's decision to boycott future elections was made by the party's national executive Wednesday after consultation with members and elected officials around the country.

He said that, unless electoral reforms were in place in time, the MDC would not take part in next year's parliamentary election. He said Zimbabwe's constitution allows the national election to be postponed from the scheduled date of March to June next year.

"We have suspended participation in any election process until such time as the government of Zimbabwe implements in full the Mauritius protocols," Mr. Nyathi said. "It's not a question of timing it's a question of political will. The Zimbabwe government has all the instruments of state to do the right thing, which is to respond to the Mauritian declaration. They should begin now to respond to the Mauritian declaration and protocol."

There was no immediate response to MDC's decision from the ruling Zanu PF party.

Executive members of the MDC say the opposition's participation in the political arena has provided legitimacy for President Robert Mugabe, but has not advanced democracy in Zimbabwe and could not stop the government from enacting widely criticized security and media laws.

Mr. Nyathi said the MDC would continue with its normal political activity.

The MDC entered the first election in 2000, when it was only nine months old, and won 57, or nearly half of the elected parliamentary seats. It went on to win most local government elections in urban areas, but its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, narrowly lost a disputed presidential election held in 2002.

Since then, the MDC lost five parliamentary seats in special elections, which it says were marred by government-sponsored violence and electoral fraud.