MAPUTO, Mozambique — Regional presidents meeting at a special summit on Zimbabwe asked President Robert Mugabe to delay crucial elections he has set for the end of July while asking the nation to guarantee conditions for free and fair elections, officials said Saturday.
The summit took note of a ruling by Zimbabwe's highest court ordering Mugabe to hold crucial polls by July 31 but "agreed on the need for Zimbabwe to engage the Constitutional Court to seek more time beyond July 31," said Tomaz Salomao, secretary general of the regional economic and political bloc known as the Southern Africa Development Community, or SADC.
They also endorsed a report presented by South Africa President Jacob Zuma, the chief regional mediator on Zimbabwe, on the need for media reform and the "upholding of the rule of law and the validity of electoral regulations" along with the adequate deployment of regional poll monitors and consensus on an election date ahead of voting, Salomao said, quoting from the summit's closing communique.
No comment was immediately available from Mugabe or members of his delegation.
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.
Tsvangirai said democratic reforms also demanded in a new constitution and by mediators ensuring free and fair polls cannot be completed by July.
Zuma said in a statement earlier Saturday the regional leaders were to consider "a roadmap" to elections in Zimbabwe. But a top Mugabe party official told South African state radio Saturday 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 in the Mozambique capital said at the beginning of the talks, that 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," MacDonald Lewanika, the Crisis Coalition director, told reporters.
A new constitution, overwhelmingly accepted in a referendum in March, has 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's party says.
Mugabe's party insists he was abiding by the 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 only be rescinded by the same court on an application from Mugabe.
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.