Regional leaders mediating elections in Zimbabwe have said they want to see democratic and constitutional reforms in place before fresh elections can be held next year.
A communique circulated in Harare today after a summit of the Southern African Development Community in the Angolan capital of Luanda yesterday said the regional bloc called on the coalition to complete work on a new constitution and put it to a referendum, adhering to the terms of Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal brokered by the region in 2009.
The group said chief mediator President Jacob Zuma of South Africa will help set a timeframe for elections. President Robert Mugabe has called for elections this year to end a troubled coalition government.
"It appears the new push would be for elections in March 2013," said Dewa Mavihinga, co-ordinator for an alliance of Zimbabwe democracy groups.
He said Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party conceded that the push for polls in 2012 was not possible. Mr Mugabe, however, still insists that polls can be held this year, the state Herald newspaper reported.
"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," the Herald reported the president as saying.
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 politicians has proposed a referendum by September at the earliest. The finance ministry, controlled by Mr Tsvangirai's party, says there is not 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.