Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party is considering changing the country's electoral system to appoint an independent commission to run the polls. The opposition says it welcomes the changes, but worries about President Robert Mugabe's control over the commission.

The plan, published in the state-owned daily, The Herald, calls for the appointment of a five-member commission that would organize and run presidential, parliamentary and local elections. Head of the commission would be appointed by President Mugabe. He would also pick the remaining four members from a list of seven names submitted by the parliament.

Elections would be held in one day, rather than two, and a special court would be set up to deal with electoral disputes.

The next parliamentary elections are set for March 2005.

Remus Makuwaza, who is the director of elections for the opposition Movement for Democratric Change, said the proposed changes are in line with what the MDC and the Southern African Development Community have been proposing to make Zimbabwe's elections more open and democratic. But he expressed concern about the president's power to appoint the head of the commission. "he president is a candidate, and we do not see him appointing someone independent," Mr. Makuwaza's said.

He said the changes still fall short of the opposition's other demands, including the repeal of Zimbabwe's tough security and media laws, which, he says, have allowed supporters of Zanu-PF to harass opposition candidates with impunity and put the media under close government supervision.

Disputes arising from Zimbabwe's last parliamentary elections four years ago are still mired in the courts, and the case filed by MDC candidate in the 2002 presidential poll, Morgan Tsvangirai, is still to be heard. Both elections were surrounded by violence and controversy, and international observers concluded that neither of them was fair or free.

Earlier this week, Mr. Mugabe said only developing countries will be allowed to observe Zimbabwe's elections. He told a group African, Caribbean and Pacific countries former colonial masters will not be allowed to observe the elections.