By MacDonald Dzirutwe
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said elections will be held in early 2012 and accused his rivals of stalling the process to write a new constitution to prolong the life of a fragile unity government, local media reported Saturday.
The regional Southern African Development Community has been leaning on the aging leader to hold off until after a referendum, due to be held in January, to determine whether the new constitution can be adopted.
"We cannot go beyond March next year. I will definitely announce that (election) date. It does not matter what anyone would say," the official Herald newspaper quoted Mugabe as telling a meeting of his ZANU-PF party.
"Once I announce the date, everyone will follow," said Mugabe, who was until recently pushing for elections this year.
Elections are due in 2013 but Mugabe says the unity government he was forced into two years ago with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has run its course.
Analysts say Mugabe's inner circle wants an early election, fearing the veteran leader may not be able to cope with the demands of campaigning in two years' time when he will be 89 years old.
Tsvangirai initially wanted early polls but his Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) says it will not take part in a vote without a new constitution and electoral and security reforms.
"We have those who fear elections and there are there are many in the MDC who feel intimidated by thoughts of another election. They fear to lose," Mugabe said.
Zimbabwe's unity government has stabilised an economy that was ravaged by hyper-inflation and has eased political tensions.
However, unemployment remains high while foreign donors have withheld crucial funding and are demanding more political reforms.
(Editing by Karolina Tagaris)