HARARE: Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe, who was ousted in November, made a surprise intervention Sunday on the eve of the country’s election, saying he would not vote for his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In his first live appearance since being thrown out of power, Mugabe, 94, spoke slowly but appeared in good health sitting in a blue-tiled pagoda outside his sprawling luxury mansion in an upmarket suburb of Harare.
Zimbabwe goes to the polls Monday in its first election since Mugabe was forced by the military to resign after 37 years in power, with allegations mounting of voter fraud and predictions of a disputed result.
President Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former ally in the ruling ZANU-PF party, faces opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the landmark vote for the southern African nation.
“I cannot vote for those who tormented me,” Mugabe said, hinting he could vote for MDC.
“I can’t vote for ZANU-PF… what is left? I think it is just Chamisa,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s military generals shocked the world last year when they seized control and ushered Mnangagwa to power after Mugabe allegedly tried to position his wife Grace, 53, to be his successor.
“It was a thorough coup d’etat, you don’t roll… the tanks without your army and units deployed,” Mugabe said, adding it was “utter nonsense” that he wanted Grace as his successor.
Mnangagwa, 75, who promises a fresh start for the country, is the front-runner with the advantage of covert military support, a loyal state media and a ruling party that controls government resources.
But Chamisa, 40, who has performed strongly on the campaign trail, hopes to tap into a young population that could vote for change as ZANU-PF has ruled since the country’s independence from British colonial rule in 1980.
Elections during Mugabe’s authoritarian rule were marred by fraud and violence, and this year’s campaign has been dominated by accusations that the vote will be rigged.
The MDC on Sunday again raised allegations of a flawed electoral roll, ballot paper malpractice, voter intimidation and bias in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Campaigning has been relatively unrestricted and peaceful compared with previous elections, and some analysts point to pressure for the vote to be judged credible to draw a line under the international isolation of the Mugabe era.
Polling in Zimbabwe is uncertain, but a recent Afrobarometer survey of 2,400 people put Mnangagwa on 40 percent and Chamisa on 37 percent, with 20 percent undecided.
Mnangagwa, who is accused of involvement in election violence and fraud under Mugabe, has vowed to hold a fair vote and invited in international observers — including the previously-banned European Union team.
“What is left now is only one push on Monday to vote — to vote for ZANU-PF so we have a thunderous victory,” Mnangagwa told his supporters who filled about half of the 60,000-capacity national stadium at his final rally on Saturday.
“Today we unlock the potential of our beloved homeland to build a new Zimbabwe for all,” he said, repeating his promise of economic revival.
Chamisa has launched blistering attacks on Mnangagwa and accused the much-criticised Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of trying to fix the election.
But he has also vowed not to boycott the vote, saying his party would still win.
“If we miss our opportunity on Monday, we are doomed because the current government is clueless (but) we are the next government, we are the winners no doubt,” he told a large crowd of more than 10,000 on Saturday.
With 5.6 million registered voters, the results of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections are due by August 4.
A run-off vote is scheduled for September 8 if no presidential candidate wins at least 50 percent in the first round.