Zimbabwe's parliament will delay debate of a law to create a unity government, a senior opposition official said Wednesday, a setback that could further prolong a political and economic crisis, reported Reuters.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai last week agreed to join a unity government after months of wrangling over cabinet posts had stalled a power-sharing deal signed last year.
Parliament was expected to start debating constitutional changes to create a prime minister post for Tsvangirai on Wednesday, but a fresh dispute erupted this week, with the MDC accusing President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF of backtracking on the unity deal.
MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese told Reuters the rival parties' negotiators would meet Wednesday in a bid to settle outstanding matters.
"There will be a delay. As you will recall, in terms of the SADC communique, negotiators were supposed to meet immediately afterwards to iron out the remaining issues on national security legislation and a formula on allocating provincial governors."
"I believe that meeting will happen today. It is only after that that the bill will be brought to parliament. I do not know when exactly," Gonese said.
Regional Southern Africa Development Community leaders met last week to persuade Zimbabwe's rival parties to break the deadlock. They called for a unity government to be in place by February 13.
The new government is seen as crucial to rescue Zimbabwe's economy from collapse.
The once-prosperous southern African country's economy is in ruins, with half the population needing food aid. Official inflation -- last recorded in mid-2008 -- had soared to 231 million percent and the United Nations says unemployment is 94 percent.
The continent's deadliest cholera epidemic in 15 years has infected 65,739 people, killing 3,323.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was not immediately available for comment, but state media reports quoted him saying the constitutional bill would be delayed.
"It is not going to be possible to meet that deadline on the passing of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment number 19 into law because the negotiators will be meeting the SADC facilitation team in South Africa," Chinamasa told the state-controlled Chronicle newspaper.
"We have to deal with the outstanding issues, so we cannot proceed with the passing of amendment number 19 on the given date."
Tsvangirai's MDC holds 100 seats in the lower house of parliament, while ZANU-PF has 99 seats. A splinter MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara controls 10 seats and an independent one.
Any constitutional changes require two-thirds majority support.