A tougher stance already taken by regional leaders toward reforms on Zimbabwe can prevent a repeat of bloody, disputed elections, a pro-democracy research group said Tuesday.
The Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe said Southern African leaders for the first time have the will and capacity to ensure credible, free elections in the country.
Former Southern African Development Community secretary-general Prega Ramsamy reported that the regional bloc has made it clear it will no longer tolerate rogue members such as Zimbabwe that flaunt its guiding principles on elections and democracy.
He said SADC recently "put its foot down" to stop President Robert Mugabe calling early elections this year.
Mugabe, 87, who is in a shaky coalition that was brokered by the regional body after violent elections in 2008, wants elections this year to end the troubled power sharing agreement with the former opposition of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
But regional leaders at a summit in March ruled that the nation was not ready to go to the polls until work on rewriting the constitution and several other coalition disputes were resolved, along with an end to political violence.
"This is the first time SADC has clearly put its foot down on Mugabe which shows its determination to adapt to global change," Ramsamy said.
The region's previous soft approach toward Zimbabwe stemmed from old-guard leaders alongside Mugabe who led the fight against colonial rule.
"There are new political leaders ... looking for economic development, security and stability," he said.
Mugabe described his stern rebuke by regional leaders in March as a "bombshell" from the regional grouping after _ for the first time _ they accused his party and loyalist police and the military of violence and arbitrary arrests of opponents and officials of Tsvangirai's party.
Earlier Tuesday, riot police fanned out in impoverished townships in western Harare for a second day in an apparent crackdown on Tsvangirai supporters after disturbances Sunday left one police officer dead.
Police alleged Tsvangirai's supporters started the disturbances. By late Tuesday, 16 people had been arrested.
Tsvangirai's party denied the allegations and in a statement cited witnesses saying the police inspector was killed when he was hit on the head with a chair as police intervened to stop a dispute in a township bar on Sunday.