Regional leaders want reforms before Zimbabwe poll

Regional leaders mediating in Zimbabwe said they want to see democratic and constitutional reforms before fresh elections can be held next year.

The Southern African Development Community called on Zimbabwe's coalition government to work on a new constitution and put it to a referendum to adhere to the terms of the power sharing deal brokered by the group in 2009, according to a statement released by the group Saturday.

Chief mediator, South African President Jacob Zuma, will help set a time frame for elections, the group said after a Friday summit in the Angolan capital of Luanda. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were at the summit.

Mugabe has called for elections this year to end the troubled coalition government.

"It appears the new push would be for elections in March, 2013," said Dewa Mavihinga, coordinator for an alliance of Zimbabwe democracy groups. He said that Mugabe's ZANU-PF party conceded that the push for polls in 2012 wasn't possible.

Mugabe, however, still insisted polls can be held this year, the state Herald newspaper reported Saturday.

"We discussed the situation in our country and we all made contributions. We should go and finish the business to see when we can have elections within the time left for us. We want elections to be held this year," Mugabe said, The Herald reported.

The newspaper, controlled by Mugabe loyalists, also quoted regional leaders saying elections should be held within the next 12 months.

The rewriting of the constitution is behind schedule and has been plagued by bickering between members of a parliamentary panel in charge of it.

A panel of Zimbabwe lawmakers has proposed a referendum by September at the earliest. The finance ministry, controlled by Tsvangirai's party, says there isn't enough money to hold two quickly successive votes.

Independent election monitoring groups also say voter lists are still in disarray and need a full overhaul to remove voters who have died and electors who appear to be listed to vote in more than one district.

On a trip to Zimbabwe last week, U.N. Human Rights Commission Navi Pillay warned that early elections without reforms were likely to cause a repeat of widespread violence and killings during the last disputed elections in 2008 that led to the formation of the coalition.

Only free and fair democratic elections would be recognized internationally and by the region, she said.