Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said regional leaders will hold a summit to discuss how to fund an election later this year in which he is seeking to extend his three-decade rule, state media reported on Tuesday.
Impoverished Zimbabwe needs $132 million for the election but conditions attached to the cash have divided the already fractious unity government, whose main players will be rivals for power in the vote.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF has been pushing for funding with as few strings as possible and withdrew a request to have the United Nations fund the poll, saying the global body was trying to interfere in domestic issues.
The MDC of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is keen to attach the money to the deployment of election observers. It fears ZANU-PF, whose members are under international sanctions for suspected rigging of previous votes, will use the security forces to intimidate voters.
Any repeat of violence that accompanied the last vote in 2008 could end Zimbabwe's fragile economic recovery and unleash another refugee crisis similar to the one five years ago when hundreds of thousands fled to neighboring South Africa.
Zimbabwe's government-owned Herald newspaper said South African President Jacob Zuma proposed to Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders at a meeting on the sidelines of the just-ended African Union summit that they should help fund Zimbabwe's elections.
"We said we now want to go for elections and we need help and they (SADC leaders) said they will hold a special summit to examine how they will help with election funding," Mugabe was quoted as telling ZANU-PF members after the AU summit.
Officials from South Africa and the SADC regional bloc of 15 states were not immediately available for comment.
But SADC observers could be a compromise amenable to Mugabe, who regularly rails against the West for imposing sanctions he blames for ruining an economy that analysts say was wrecked by policy blunders by Mugabe and his ZANU-PF.
Mugabe, 89, and in power since independence from Britain in 1980 will face long-time rival Tsvangirai in the vote.
They displayed rare unity this year in pushing through a new constitution at a referendum, a critical step for the election but which depleted state coffers for the next vote.
The new constitution clips the powers of the president and imposes a two-term limit. However, it does not apply retroactively so Mugabe technically could rule until he is 99.
Zimbabwe's parliament will be dissolved on June 29 and the country has up to four months to hold the election.
The Supreme Court last Friday heard a case in which a Harare man wants to force Mugabe to announce an election date before June 29. A ruling on the case was expected to come soon.