Mugabe wants elections in March

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe wants his country to go to the polls in March.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Picture: AFP

HARARE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe wants to hold elections in March, court papers showed on Thursday, a timetable that could cause tension with his coalition partners and regional leaders who first want reforms to avoid a repeat of 2008 poll violence.

Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, was forced to form a government with rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, three years ago after the disputed 2008 election.

Under the terms of the power-sharing deal new elections must be held by next year. Mugabe's Zanu-PF party wants the vote held as early as possible, while Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change says it should come after the adoption of a new constitution and electoral, security and media reforms.

The Supreme Court ordered Mugabe last month to announce dates for by-elections to fill at least 26 vacant parliamentary seats by the end of September.

The president has made a fresh application to the High Court, arguing the cash-strapped government cannot afford to hold the by-elections, and said he intended to hold a general election in six months' time anyway.

"The applicant's desire is to hold harmonised elections in the last week of March 2013 and a proclamation to this effect will be made at the appropriate time," the president said in the application seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Mugabe said the government would need $270 million to fund the by-elections, a referendum on a new constitution and the general election.

The president also said in the court papers that the referendum would be held in November.

Tsvangirai's position on the general election date has been backed by leaders from the Southern African Development Community bloc who have leaned on Mugabe to hold off polls until reforms are agreed and implemented.

The president can constitutionally trigger a general election by dissolving parliament, but Mugabe is expected to seek consensus with his coalition partners on a poll date.