The Zimbabwe president's demands for constitutional reforms to be completed next month aren't practical and his call for elections this year will likely stir violence and chaos, legal researchers said Tuesday.
President Robert Mugabe has vowed to go ahead with elections after May, with or without reforms.
The independent legal think tank Veritas said in its latest bulletin that constitutional changes are necessary to "level the political playing field" and avoid upheavals and violence seen in the last 2008 vote.
It warned polls without the reforms "will be a sham in the eyes of the region and the world," and such an election breached terms of the nation's three-year power sharing deal and several formal resolutions by regional mediators on a free vote.
Mugabe's timetable set targets that were impossible to meet, the group said. He took no heed of legal requirements for an all party conference on a new constitution, ratification in the Harare Parliament and circulation of the finished document across the nation in all local languages.
The legal experts said Mugabe faces a "Catch 22 situation" in that if he unilaterally dissolved the coalition with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader, and called for elections he risked forfeiting recognition as Zimbabwe's president by regional leaders and the chief mediator on the crisis, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.
However, if he does not pull out of the coalition, he cannot legally call elections without Tsvangirai's consent, they said.
Tsvangirai has stopped short of saying he will boycott an election under the existing constitution that Mugabe has threatened.
He said on Monday any prospect of a boycott was "hypothetical."
"I expect Mugabe to respect the law if he has any integrity," Tsvangirai said.
He said regional leaders were unanimous in setting democratic reforms as a basic framework for holding free and fair polls.
"These conditions are not pie in the sky, but the minimum conditions even SADC itself has adopted," he said of the 14-nation regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community.
"If he (Mugabe) proceeds unilaterally, we will take action that will depend on the circumstances prevailing at the time," Tsvangirai told reporters.
In 2008, Tsvangirai boycotted a presidential run-off vote to protest violence against his supporters in the first round of presidential and parliament voting.
His Movement for Democratic Change won control of the 210-seat legislature amid the accusations of violence and vote rigging by Mugabe loyalists. The coalition was formed by regional mediators after those disputed elections.
Mugabe, 88, left Harare on Saturday on a private visit to Singapore, his office said. Last year he underwent medical treatment in the Asian city state.
Before his departure, Mugabe told his party's policymaking central committee he wanted a referendum on a new constitution to be held by the end of May.
An all-party panel of lawmakers in charge of the often delayed rewriting of constitutional law says it won't be ready for a referendum before August at the earliest.
Mugabe accused reformers of delaying tactics and said he will call elections anyway.
"They are delaying the process arguing on small matters, but we are saying no, no, no. They are out of step. If they haven't finished in time, we will do it our way," he said.