Tsvangirai says Zimbabwe elections expected in July

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Wednesday he expected presidential and parliamentary elections in July after a nationwide vote on a new constitution next month.

Tsvangirai also said he did not fear a repeat of violence that overshadowed disputed polls in 2008 which led to a power-sharing government between his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and rival President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

When questioned about the date for the elections at a human rights forum to discuss the constitution approved by parliament last week, Tsvangirai said simply "July".

ZANU-PF's chief spokesman Rugare Gumbo said the timetable Tsvangirai outlined was in line with the framework Mugabe, the 88-year-old political veteran who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980, was working around.

"That time frame is in tandem with what we as a party have been working with, but the confirmation and actual dates will be fixed by the president," he told Reuters.

For months, the entrenched president has said he wants fresh polls by mid-year before the destitute southern African country hosts a global conference on tourism, which analysts say Harare wants to use to rebrand itself after years of isolation.

Before Tsvangirai's comments at the human rights forum, Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga told reporters the power-sharing government had set March 16 as the tentative date for the referendum on the constitution.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, worried that there might not be enough money for the referendum and the elections, has approached donors for help.

By law, the next elections are due when the current presidential and parliamentary terms expire at the end of June although there has been speculation ZANU-PF and the MDC could extend it while working on more political reforms.


The last polls were marred by violence and allegations of vote-rigging, blamed mostly on Mugabe's war veteran supporters and ZANU-PF youth brigades.

Tsvangirai, 60, dismissed fears the coming elections would see a repeat of the 2008 violence, saying a strict code of conduct and supervision by regional and international observers would help deliver a free vote.

"I am not budgeting for chaos. I am certainly bullish about the way things will go in the elections," he said, adding that human rights watchdogs should not be overly worried over isolated incidents of intimidation and harassment.

A confident Tsvangirai said he was looking forward to the end of the government of national unity (GNU) as it had limited capacity to fix an economy critics say was destroyed by Mugabe's policies.

The economy has recovered slightly due to political stability brought about by the power-sharing deal after being crushed about five years ago by hyperinflation.

"I don't expect the next elections to produce a hung parliament. Four years of this GNU have been torture and I do not wish for another GNU," he said.

Mugabe faces a stiff challenge in the polls after his long stay in power and policies that have left more than 80 percent of the adult population jobless.

(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Michael Holden)

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