While the subject of deferring the presidential elections until 2010 is not on the conference agenda, officials have said that the issue may be raised by delegates from the floor.
  
Merging elections

Nathan Shamuyarira, a party spokesman, said: "There is a feeling in the party that it would be a good thing to merge the parliamentary and presidential elections in order to save money."

"Zanu-PF has no candidate to succeed Mugabe and the party is unelectable, that is why they want to delay the presidential elections"

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for
the opposition Movement for Democratic Change
Eight of the 10 Zanu-PF regional provinces have already voted in favour of postponing the presidential poll.

Mugabe would need parliament to approve an amendment to the constitution to extend his mandate, but such a vote should be a mere formality given the party's majority in parliament.

Opposition politicians say Mugabe is trying buy time while his party decides on a candidate for the next presidential elections.

"Zanu-PF has no candidate to succeed Mugabe and the party is  unelectable, that is why they want to delay the presidential elections," Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, told AFP news agency.

Although Mugabe appeared to endorse Joyce Mujuru, the vice-president, as his successor when she was elected as the party's deputy leader two years ago, he has since criticised infighting among ambitious senior party members.

John Nkomo, the parliamentary speaker, indicated last month that he would be interested in succeeding Mugabe, telling journalists: "Why would I vie for the vice-president's position when there is the presidency?"
  
Party in a mess

Mugabe, who previously said he would stand down after his current term, has said he does not want to leave his party in a mess.
   
"I can't retire if my party is going to be in a shambles. But any day we feel we are ready for that retirement," he said.

Analysts have said that an extension of Mugabe's presidency could worsen the economic situation. Unemployment is already above 80 per cent and inflation has run into four figures.

"We are a pariah state and having Mugabe's tenure extended will only worsen our pariah status," Reginald Matshaba-Hove, a political analyst who heads the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, said.

Mugabe is one of Africa's longest-serving rulers having been in power for 26 years, first as prime minister in the independence government and then as president after 1987.

In 2002, he narrowly won a presidential race against Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change. The opposition refused to accept that result, saying polling was swayed by vote-rigging, violent intimidation of voters and corruption.