Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (right) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Harare - The Zimbabwe High Court on Thursday dismissed an application by a pro-democracy group to defer a referendum on a new constitution set for March 16, a lawyer said.

The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which opposes the draft text, last week filed a motion seeking to delay the referendum.

But “the court ruled that it does not have the jurisdiction to hear the case,” the group's lawyer Alec Muchadehama told AFP.

Judge George Chiweshe, a former elections commission chief, ruled that only President Robert Mugabe, who declared the date, has the powers to change it.

The NCA wants more time for the public to study the draft constitution, saying the four weeks given were inadequate.

It argued that the general public was not involved in the drafting of the law, and other contributions were not taken into account.

A new constitution is a key reform ahead of elections to choose a successor to an uneasy power-sharing government formed nearly four years ago by long-ruling President Robert Mugabe and his nemesis Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have endorsed the text which notably limits presidential terms and reduces the president's powers.

Elections are due in July.

The NCA said it would appeal the court's decision.

“We do not agree with the judgement. I have instructions from my clients to appeal at the Supreme Court,” said Muchadehama. - Sapa-AFP