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Former finance minister woos ruling party dissidents in presidential race

Former finance minister woos ruling party dissidents in presidential race

A former Zimbabwean finance minister was launching his presidential campaign Saturday and trying to persuade ruling party members to help him unseat Robert Mugabe in March elections.
Simba Makoni, an independent candidate, was holding a rally at a stadium in the second city of Bulawayo where a member of the ruling party's top policy body would declare his support for him, Makoni spokesman Denford Magora said.
Makoni met Dumiso Dabengwa, a former lawmaker and government minister and a current member of Mugabe's politburo, before the rally, said Magora. His defection would deal a major blow to the ZANU-PF party.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, had expected a clear run to victory at the March 29 vote given his iron control over most state organs and radio and television. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is badly divided and many opposition supporters now live abroad.
Makoni's candidature has outraged the 84-year-old president and injected a new sense of competition into the election. It is unclear how much support Makoni has from the ZANU-PF elite, although analysts says he enjoys the backing of some senior figures.
Dabengwa was not immediately available by telephone and there was no early reaction from ZANU-PF officials. Dabengwa faces expulsion from the ruling party for defying its choice of Mugabe as the sole party candidate.
Dabengwa, a former guerrilla leader in the bush war that swept Mugabe to power in 1980, is a popular figure in the western province of Matabeleland where the Movement for Democratic Change also has several key urban strongholds.
He was not present when Mugabe launched his re-election campaign Friday. Mugabe acknowledged deep divisions in his party and vowed to defeat "sell outs, political prostitutes, political charlatans and two headed political creatures" in the national polls.
Mugabe recently likened Makoni to a prostitute seeking clients.
Mugabe, 84, told some 4,000 supporters that opponents in the fractured Movement for Democratic Change received support from Britain, the former colonial ruler, and other "enemies" in the West seeking regime change in Zimbabwe.
He said that divisions in the ZANU-PF party during its internal primary polls to select candidates for the election had been resolved.
"The struggles within the party that have taken place, and in some cases little wars, have been settled," he told supporters.
But he added: "You who are here with us, I hope I trust you, all of you."
Makoni, 57, has called for reform in the ruling party and said the nation needed a "new beginning" with a younger generation tackling the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980. He is standing as an independent after his own expulsion from the party.
Opponents blame Mugabe and his close colleagues for chronic economic hardships, shortages of gasoline and most basic goods and by far the world's highest official inflation of more than 100,500 percent. Iraq has the second highest inflation of just 60 percent.
Elections will also be held on March 29 for parliamentary and local council seats.


Updated : 2021-05-12 23:43 GMT+08:00