PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is battling to secure consensus on election dates from his coalition partners against the backdrop of a fresh push for a September poll.
Pressure is also mounting for the President to comply with a High Court judgement to proclaim election dates by March 31.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations have started pushing for elections in September, despite earlier statements by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that elections would be held in July.
Former opposition party activists say a September election would allow for the realignment of a raft of laws with the new constitution. There are fears that a July poll may precipitate a presidential election run-off that could end up disrupting a United Nations World Tourism (UNWTO) general assembly to be held jointly by Zimbabwe and Zambia from August 24 to 30, 2013.
Time is also running out for the ZANU-PF leader as he needs to comply with a court order that set March 31 as the deadline for proclaiming poll dates in a matter in which three former lawmakers -- Abednico Bhebhe, Njabuliso Mguni and Norman Mpofu -- sought early by-elections in their former constituencies of Lupane, Nkayi South and Bulilima East which they lost after being ousted from Parliament for crossing the floor.
Although the case initially concerned the three constituencies, President Mugabe was later allowed to combine the outstanding by elections into harmonised polls.
President Mugabe has not announced election dates, but he said last week that he wanted elections held "instantly" in an interview with the State broadcaster.
He confirmed that he was under pressure to push them to a period later than the UNWTO.
With the referendum expected on March 16, speculation was that the polls could be held in July after previous ZANU-PF attempts to have them held this month hit a brick wall.
In fact, election talk started in 2010, when President Mugabe said polling should be held in 2011, with ZANU-PF subsequently passing resolutions for them to be held in 2012 and then in March this year.
But when that failed, the focus shifted to anytime soon after the forthcoming referendum.
ZANU-PF's early poll plan has largely faltered due to pressure from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) as well as from the facilitator of talks between the warring political parties, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma.
At one time, Zuma described the push for elections in Zimbabwe as 'counterproductive'.
President Mugabe's party is raring to go, mostly because of a series of independent opinion polls that have put ZANU-PF ahead of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party.
But critics warn that the confidence may spell doom for ZANU-PF as the party is known to be at its best when it is cornered as it then resorts to using any means necessary to retain power as was the case after it lost the March 2008 general elections: It fought back in the resultant presidential election run-off, forcing Tsvangirai to pull out of the race citing violence.
This week, the Welshman Ncube-led MDC said only a September poll would help secure a credible election as more time was needed for the necessary laws, such as electoral amendments, to be effected to support the new constitution.
MDC deputy president, Edwin Mushoriwa, said it was not practical to hold polls in July.
"From a practical point, it would not be possible to hold credible polls by July. After the referendum, there is need for a month to go to Parliament and another month for the President to proclaim election dates," said Mushoriwa.
"There is also question of logistics and all the relevant laws need to be adjusted. There is a question of election amendments and proportional representation of the provinces and of women."
MDC-T spokesperson, Douglas Mwonzora, said he was in a meeting, while party secretary general Tendai Biti was unreachable.
But the PM's chief of staff, Alex Magaisa, said ideally, a country needs more time to entrench its constitution before new polls occur as was the case in Kenya which has now held polls more than two years after adopting its supreme law.
But, unfortunately, Zimbabwe cannot afford that luxury.
"The PM is very conscious about the need to realign various pieces of legislation and institutions with the new constitutional requirements," said Magaisa.
He added that there was need for the country to go for polls when it was ready to avoid another sham election.
There was also need for SADC to provide guidance, he said.
"We are under SADC's political curatorship," added Magaisa.
In his birthday interview on State television last week, President Mugabe said although his rivals were now calling for polls to be held after the UNWTO general assembly, he would not entertain the idea.
"For now, it was (Minister of Constitutional Affairs) Eric Matinenga. So, Matinenga is around. After the referendum, when it is elections, then it is the Minister of Justice (Patrick Chinamasa) and then he will determine when elections will come," said President Mugabe.
On proposals to hold elections after the UNWTO, Mugabe retorted: "Why? (We want these) elections to be done as soon as possible... Constitutionally, we must have elections instantly. We are bound by our Constitution to have elections after every five years. So, it is the Constitution which pushes us and anyone who is in government must always be cognisant of the billing that comes from our Constitution and this is the billing we have anyway."
He accused his political rivals of enjoying what he termed "a free ride" in the inclusive government, alleging that they never qualified to be part of that arrangement in the first place.