MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — Regional presidents opened a special summit on Zimbabwe on Saturday after President Robert Mugabe set crucial elections for the end of July, despite opposition from the country's prime minister.
Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Friday that Mugabe's unilateral proclamation of the July 31 election date breached terms of the power sharing agreement forged by regional leaders after the last violent and disputed elections in 2008. That agreement required the coalition partners to agree on policy decisions and the holding of elections, he said.
South Africa President Jacob Zuma started closed-door talks with Mugabe, Tsvangirai and other regional leaders in Maputo, Mozambique, officials said. Zuma is the chief mediator on Zimbabwe for southern Africa's political and economic bloc, known as Southern Africa Development Community, or SADC.
Tsvangirai, in a shaky coalition with Mugabe, says democratic reforms demanded in a new constitution and by mediators ensuring free and fair polls cannot be completed by July.
Zuma said Saturday the leaders will consider "a roadmap" to elections in Zimbabwe. But a top Mugabe party official told South African state radio the summit will only seek financial help from the region to fund polls in July.
The Crisis Coalition, an alliance of Zimbabwean pro-democracy and rights groups monitoring the summit at Maputo's Chissano convention center, said early elections risked not being recognized regionally or by Zimbabweans themselves unless reforms are in place and political violence and intimidation are brought to an end.
"Conditions are not ripe for free and fair elections. The security situation is not good ...we want SADC to ensure that violence is stopped and the media is free to report without intimidation," the coalition director, MacDonald Lewanika, said.
A new constitution, overwhelmingly accepted in a referendum in March, also demanded reforms to sweeping media and security laws along with reforms within Mugabe's loyalist police and military blamed for state orchestrated violence in previous polls.
None of those reforms have been completed, Tsvangirai said.
Mugabe's party insists he is abiding by a ruling of the Constitutional Court, the nation's highest court, ordering him to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by the end of July, linked to the automatic dissolution of the Harare parliament on June 29, the end of its current five year term.
Independent lawyers' groups say that ruling does not follow provisions in the new constitution and can be rescinded by the court to allow more time for election preparations. Continuing amendments to electoral laws called for in the constitution and by regional leaders were effectively blocked by Mugabe's announcement of the poll date on Thursday, said Veritas, a legal research group.
Mozambique President Armando Guebuza, current chair of the regional grouping, said earlier Saturday that Zumawas scheduled to present a report to the one-day summit on the country's readiness for elections.