By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) - The party of Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said thousands of dead people were still on the electoral roll only four weeks before a presidential election, accusing allies of President Robert Mugabe of trying to rig the outcome.
The July 31 contest is Tsvangirai's third attempt to unseat Mugabe, the 89-year-old veteran who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980. The two were forced into a power sharing deal after the last, disputed polls in 2008.
Another contested result could interrupt impoverished Zimbabwe's recovery from a decade of economic decline that has prompted hundreds of thousands to flee the country.
"Clearly the voters roll is a shambles. The registration is often chaotic and frustrating in urban areas and we see this as an attempt to rig the elections before voting has even started," MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said on Tuesday.
Tsvangirai's MDC wants to delay the election until mid-August to allow more time to prepare a smooth vote free of the deadly violence that marred the 2008 polls.
But a court ruling is expected next week and there is no guarantee that judges will change the date, so the MDC and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party have swung into campaign mode.
The state-owned Herald newspaper, tightly controlled by ZANU-PF, said the MDC had failed to substantiate its allegations, calling them a "frivolous and spurious" attempt to discredit the elections.
MDC wants equal access to Zimbabwe's only broadcaster, which is owned by the government and is in the grip of ZANU-PF.
It wants the military, which openly campaigns for Mugabe, to stay out of politics and sign an agreement to accept the result if Mugabe loses. Army commanders often say they would not salute Tsvangirai if he won an election.
Election Commission Chairwoman Rita Makarau told reporters the body had received grievances from the MDC but expected to have the problems fixed before the polls.
"(These are) issues that we are going to iron out," Makarau said.
Tsvangirai has asked the 15-nation Southern African Development Community to pressure Mugabe to delay the election until there is a chance it will be fair and credible.
But analysts say the court may take a dim view of any outside interference given long-standing criticism of Mugabe and his allies for failing to respect the rule of law.
MDC Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said uncertainty over the election date may have caused the economy to shrink by as much as 3 percent in the first quarter and was pushing it closer to recession.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Tom Pfeiffer)