Mugabe breaks silence on Zimbabwe poll

Mugabe breaks silence on Zimbabwe poll

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Media captionRobert Mugabe refused to back Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwe’s ex-president Robert Mugabe has given a surprise press conference on the eve of the nation’s elections.

Mr Mugabe said he would not support his successor in the Zanu-PF party, Emmerson Mnangagwa, after being forced from office by the “party I founded”.

“I cannot vote for those who tormented me,” he said. “I will make my choice among the other 22 [candidates].”

Zimbabweans go to the polls on Monday in the first vote since Mr Mugabe was ousted in November.

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What did Mr Mugabe say?

Speaking from his home in the capital, Harare, on Sunday, the former president again said he had been “sacked” as part of a military coup and that he left office in order to “avoid conflict”.

He said that he now wished the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Nelson Chamisa, well in Monday’s vote.

“He seems to be doing well, and if he is elected I wish him well,” he said.

When asked by the BBC’s Fergal Keane if he would like to see Mr Chamisa gain power in Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe, 94, indicated that he was the only viable candidate.

Mr Mugabe said: “I hope the choice of voting tomorrow will throw, thrust away the military government and bring us back to constitutionality.

“Let tomorrow be the voice of the people to say never again shall we experience a period where the army is used to thrust one person into power.”

Image copyright Reuters

Image caption Grace Mugabe accompanied her husband for his address in Harare on Sunday

Image copyright Reuters

Image caption Mr Mugabe said that MDC leader Nelson Chamisa was the only viable candidate

Mr Mugabe also denied that, as president, he had planned to hand the leadership to his wife, Grace, saying it was “utter nonsense”, and suggested that ex-defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi should have taken over.

Mr Mugabe added that, since he was forced from office last year, “the people of Zimbabwe have not been free”.

A new Zimbabwe

By Pumza Fihlani, BBC News, Harare

Robert Mugabe has hardly been seen or heard from since his unceremonious removal from the presidency last November. If Sunday’s surprise press conference is anything to go by, the former statesman has not forgiven those who took his Zimbabwe away from him.

At times he appeared frail, but his words were cutting. He spent much of his address criticising the current government led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, once a close ally. He believes President Mnangagwa’s rise to the top job was illegitimate and unconstitutional.

Perhaps the strongest sign of their now fractured relationship was the revelation that he will not be voting for Zanu-PF, the party he helped found. He instead indicated he would be voting for MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.

But does Mr Mugabe still matter here in Zimbabwe? Not in any way he would appreciate; there is an overwhelming sense especially from young people that he is out of touch with the challenges facing Zimbabweans today. And while Zimbabwe might owe her independence to Mr Mugabe, there’s a new Zimbabwe waiting to be born, one which he has no place in.

What is happening on Monday?

More than five million Zimbabweans are preparing to go to the polls for what will be the first time in 38 years without Mr Mugabe in power.

They will be voting in presidential, parliamentary and local elections. There are 23 candidates on the presidential ballot.

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The cash-strapped and impoverished country, which has known decades of repressive rule, faces severe economic challenges.

These include issues of investment, education, healthcare and jobs – some estimates suggest that the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is as high as 90%.

Many Zimbabweans have left the country in search of work in South Africa.

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Media captionWhy Zimbabwe’s election is historic

The country is expecting a high turnout of first-time voters on Monday, where the youth vote is expected to be key, with almost half of those registered being under the age of 35.

Who are the frontrunners?

The frontrunners in addressing these challenges are Zanu-PF’s President Mnangagwa, 75, and the MDC’s Mr Chamisa, 40.

President Mnangagwa, who is known as “the crocodile” because of his political shrewdness, has promised to deliver jobs and is seen as open to economic reforms.

He has survived several assassination attempts blamed on supporters of Mr Mugabe.

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Mr Chamisa, who became an MP at the age of 25, could become Zimbabwe’s youngest president.

He is known for his wit and humour, and as a lawyer and a pastor his rallies and news conferences have taken on the fervour of a revivalist campaign.

An opinion poll last week saw the MDC close the gap with Zanu-PF from 11 percentage points to three, with 20% of voters undecided. It was only the second of two opinion polls.

  • The crusader taking on Zimbabwe’s ‘crocodile’

Election in numbers

  • 5,635,706 people have re-registered to a new voters’ roll; the opposition still has doubts about its accuracy
  • 43.5% of registered voters are under 35
  • 10,985 polling stations
  • 16 years since EU and US observers were allowed to monitor elections

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