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Zimbabwean former finance minister woos ruling party dissidents in presidential race

Zimbabwean former finance minister woos ruling party dissidents in presidential race

Zimbabwe's former finance minister Simba Makoni held his first presidential election rally Saturday and celebrated the defection of a respected member of President Robert Mugabe's ruling party inner circle to his side.
Dumiso Dabengwa, a former government minister and current member of the ZANU-PF politburo, announced his support for Makoni at a rally attended by 4,000 people in the second city of Bulawayo.
The defections were a blow to Mugabe, whose once iron grip on his party has weakened since Makoni announced last month that he would stand as an independent in presidential elections March 29.
"It is time they give way to a new leadership that can face up to the challenges facing our country," said Dabengwa, who was flanked by a former speaker of parliament and another top local official who also proclaimed their support for Mukoni.
Even so, the 84 year-old Mugabe is the clear favorite to win the elections, despite being blamed for the world's highest inflation rate _ more than 100,000 percent. The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change is divided and hampered by Mugabe's total control of all state organs and election machinery, including the media.
The main bloc of the MDC on Saturday announced that it would would contest the results of the elections _ even before they have taken place _ and declared that South African-mediated talks to ease the political and economic crisis had ended in failure.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he was only taking part in the elections with a "heavy heart" and disputed claims by southern African leaders that the elections would be free and fair.
"We hold the firm view that the 2008 elections .. cannot by any stretch of the imagination yield a legitimate outcome," the party said in a statement. "Tragically, the results of the 29 March 2008 elections will be contested." .
It said that mediator South African President Thabo Mbeki's reports to the South African Development Community, which declared the negotiations a success _ barring minor procedural issues _ were mere whitewash.
The announcement by Mukoni last month that he would contest the electionsa as an independent injected new competition into a race that was a foregone conclusion. It is unclear how much support Makoni has from the ZANU-PF elite, although analysts say he enjoys the backing of other senior figures. He was due to hold a rally in Harare on Sunday and hoped to announce that other senior figures have joined his campaign.
The police presence at Saturday's rally was low-key and the rally dispersed without incident.
Dabengwa said he dropped his allegiance to Mugabe after many years of unquestioning loyalty because the December party congress, which nominated Mugabe as the only candidate, was manipulated.
Dabengwa, a former guerrilla leader in the bush war that swept Mugabe to power in 1980, was mobbed by supporters as he left the stadium. He now faces expulsion from the ruling party.
Dabengwa 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 told some 4,000 supporters Friday that opponents in the MDC 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.
Makoni 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.
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 : 2020-12-05 05:28 GMT+08:00