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Zimbabwe's opposition wants new laws before vote
MacDonald Dzirutwe, Reuters
January 02, 2008

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader said on Wednesday his party might boycott March elections unless President Robert Mugabe's government implements a new constitution to guarantee a fair vote.

Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said talks with Mugabe's ZANU-PF to hammer out a new constitution had ground to a halt because the ruling party wanted to delay implementation until after the elections.

"There is already a deadlock," Tsvangirai told Reuters in an interview.

"What we know and what we believe is that a basis for a free and fair contest is ... that there should be negotiations and those negotiations should lead to all parties accepting that the conditions are free and fair. Without that, it will be a unilateral position by Mugabe and not by us."

ZANU-PF and the MDC have been in talks on revamping the constitution since June in an effort to end political and economic turmoil, and ensure future election results are accepted by all parties.

The talks have so far yielded changes to electoral, media and security laws. Officials from both sides say the new constitution, which has not been made public, includes unspecified 'frameworks' to guarantee free and fair elections.

"It is actually a contestable issue to have an election without a transitional constitution because it is that constitution that creates the institutions that run elections in a free and fair manner," Tsvangirai said.

Ruling party officials have said a draft constitution agreed with the MDC could be made public this month and that Mugabe wants it to be implemented after the elections. The MDC wants it adopted before the vote.

Mugabe has said presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in March, but the MDC wants it pushed back to allow time to implement the new constitution and the media, security and electoral changes agreed at the talks.

Tsvangirai, who has accused Mugabe of rigging past elections, said that if the deadlock can be overcome, the opposition was ready to face the veteran Zimbabwe leader at the polls and that the fractured opposition would field a single candidate for each contested seat.

The MDC has been severely weakened by infighting which resulted in a sharp split in October 2005 and a crackdown by Mugabe's government that has paralysed its structures.

Mugabe denies rigging past elections and says the MDC has lost support of voters and fears a ZANU-PF landslide victory despite an economic crisis that has seen inflation spiral and unemployment surge. (Editing by Phumza Macanda and Caroline Drees)

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