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Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai vowed Wednesday to block President Robert Mugabe's efforts to set a date for key elections before democratic reforms are implemented.
"You can't set a date of an election without my concurrence. Period. I will not give legitimacy to that election date unless we agree," Tsvangirai told civil society organisations, days before regional mediators meet to discuss the polls.
Zimbabwe is due to elect a successor to Mugabe's four-year power-sharing government with Tsvangirai, his long-time rival.
Its tenure ends on June 29.
No election date has been fixed yet for the presidential and parliamentary elections, but the Constitutional Court has ordered that they be held by the end of July, a victory for Mugabe and his allies who are pushing for polls as soon as possible.
But Tsvangirai argues for a later vote, pending reforms aimed at ensuring the elections will be free and fair.
Regional mediators who brokered the initial power-sharing government in 2008 will meet on Saturday to discuss the new polls' organisation and funding, said Tsvangirai.
The 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) cancelled an extraordinary summit over the Zimbabwe issue last week.
Tsvangirai urged the body to set firm guidelines for the polls in the upcoming meeting in the Mozambican capital Maputo.
"We want to make sure that SADC summit comes up with a roadmap to elections and what conditions shall apply for that election," Tsvangirai said.
A lack of money might derail the process.
Zimbabwe's treasury has so far disbursed just $20 million (15 million euro) of the $150 million (112 million euro) needed to hold elections, the electoral commission chair Rita Makarau told senators earlier Wednesday.
The finance minister has said the southern African country might have to borrow locally and abroad.
The government initially approached the United Nations for funds but later dropped its request after disagreements over the makeup and mandate of an assessment team from the global body.
On Tuesday, the cabinet approved amendments to bring electoral laws in line with the new constitution that came into force last month.
"We want to make sure that everyone who desires to register, registers and that any obstacles that are being placed in their way we want to remove them," said Tsvangirai.
Mugabe would probably not unilaterally declare an election date, Tsvangirai added.
But he insisted the constitution gave him a say in the election date.
"I also urge the honourable gentleman, the president of this country to observe the constitution," he warned.
"The issue is not about the date of election, the issue is about conditions for that election -- are they credible, free and fair. Legitimate, not contested."
The government's only "logical escape" from the dilemma was to ask the Constitutional Court to extend its deadline pending reforms and to raise funds, said Tsvangirai.
He has shared power with Mugabe since deadly disputed polls in 2008.
Police crackdowns have increased on rights groups and supporters of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change ahead of the new polls.
Last week New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch accused the army of having "deployed soldiers across the country, intimidating, beating and abusing" Tsvangirai's supporters or those people critical of Mugabe's rule.
The heads of Zimbabwe's security forces including the army, the police and prison services have made no secret of their allegiance to Mugabe's party, labelling Tsvangirai a stooge of the West.