Mugabe plunges opposition into new election dilemma: analysts
Mugabe's announcement led to the fragmented opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) failing to contain its anger as it accused the veteran leader of "an act of madness."
"It's an act of madness and arrogance," Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for one of two MDC factions told AFP.
"Mugabe has slapped SADC's commitment and President Thabo Mbeki's efforts to try and amicably solve the crisis. Mugabe has jumped the gun."
The opposition has tried in vain to get South African President Mbeki to lobby Mugabe to postpone the election.
Welshman Ncube, secretary general of the other faction of the opposition, said Mugabe's announcement had scuttled the Southern African Development Community's efforts to find a solution to Zimbabwe's economic and political woes.
"The announcement means that Zanu PF has repudiated the SADC process and repudiated the talks. As far as we are concerned that process (negotiations) has been terminated by Zanu PF," Ncube told AFP.
"By that very act of calling an election under the circumstances where the mediator is trying to find a solution to that dispute ... means effectively they have repudiated the talks. As far as we are concerned that is the end of that process. We wait to see what SADC will do."
Mbeki was tasked by his fellow southern African leaders last year with mediating between veteran Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party and the main opposition MDC after a number of its leaders were assaulted by the security services.
Bill Saidi, a Harare based journalist, said the opposition was in a quandary as to whether to take part in the election or not.
"They are faced with a serious dilemma whether to participate or not," he said.
"They think they owe it to the elctorate by participating yet they know they are going to lose. They are under pressure to take part, but the playing field is not fair for them. It's like they are taking a plunge by participating."
According to Friday's announcement, that was made in the extraordinary government gazette, the elections are set to be held on March 29 whilst Mugabe will dissolve parliament on March 28.
The nomination court to accept candidates for the polls is expected to sit on February 8.
Eldred Masunungure, a political sciencitist at the University of Zimbabwe said there was doubt that Mugabe would win.
"It's a foregone conclusion that Zanu PF would win and particulary Mugabe would be re-elected," he said.
"The ruling party has not only been more organised, it has maintained its rural area stranglehold."
Masungurure also warned that the MDC did not have time to come up with single candidates for both parliament and the senate.
"The nomination court will sit in two weeks time, and yet they don't have a single candidate for the presidency," he said.
Ncube said the factions of the main opposition party would now hold talks with the other half of the MDC, adding that it was not too late for them to mount a serious challenge to Mugabe.
"It means we have to respond by acting more urgently. We will be spending the next 48 hours trying to fast forward what we were doing."
Takura Zhangazha, a political scientist, echoed Saidi's sentiments saying the opposition was in a "catch 22 situation."
"They must however participate with a clear message (that it is) in an unfair environment. If they don't participate they will lose the national rallying point of the struggle."
A total of five
million voters out of the country's 13 million people have so far registered
to vote in the March elections, according to figures released by the
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which is in charge of monitoring elections.
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