Zimbabwe's ruling party endorsed President Robert Mugabe as its candidate for presidential elections next year, papering over internal divisions about the country's economic meltdown and shrugging off international criticism of the clampdown on opposition activists.
The decision came hard on the heels of an emergency southern African summit on Thursday which gave its public backing to Mugabe and appealed for the lifting of western sanctions against his government.
"It's a tragedy for democracy," said Tendai Biti of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. "It is a tragedy not only for the people of Zimbabwe but for his own party," he told the agency.
The central committee of the ruling ZANU-PF backed 83 year-old Mugabe - the only leader since independence from Britain in 1980 - as its candidate for the 2008 elections, said party spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira.
He told state television that the 145-member committee had proposed advancing parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2010, by two years to coincide with the presidential poll.
This would necessitate Mugabe's government pushing through a constitutional amendment to shorten parliament's five year-term in office by two years.
"The date has been agreed," said Shamuyarira.
The main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai earlier this week threatened to boycott next year's poll without fundamental change to the electoral system, declaring that his party would never "go into an election that is predetermined.