Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe attends the annual
conference of his ZANU-PF party in Gweru about 285km west
of the capital Harare. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has threatened to call
an election before the completion of constitutional reforms if
his rivals in a power-sharing government dragged their feet
over the charter-drafting process.
Addressing an annual conference of his ZANU-PF party, Mugabe
also said he would also press ahead with a drive to force
foreign-owned firms including mines and banks to sell
majority shares to local black people.
Mugabe, 88, one of Africa's longest-serving rulers and
accused of hanging on to power through vote-rigging, has
called for an election in March in the southern African
But coalition partners including Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai, Mugabe's old rival, first want a new constitution
and electoral and media reforms after a violent and disputed
poll in 2008 that was condemned by much of the world.
Mugabe told party members he would not wait forever to call
elections, putting pressure on Tsvangirai's Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC).
"If they do not (agree), I am going to declare sooner or
later the day of an election," he said, to applause. "Enough
is enough. We cannot continue to drag our feet on this."
However Finance Minister Tendai Biti, secretary general of
the MDC, told Reuters that Zimbabwe would not be ready for a
presidential election until at least June because it needed
the reforms to ensure a fair and undisputed poll.
"It's impossible to have an election in March," he said
during a visit to Manchester, England, on Thursday. He said
the new constitution and reforms were needed first to ensure
the poll result was "credible, legitimate and sustainable".
ZANU-PF is expected to endorse Mugabe as its presidential
candidate in elections which must be held by next September,
under a power-sharing deal agreed after the 2008 poll,
despite his advanced age, reported ill health and disastrous
ZANU-PF and the MDC are haggling over presidential powers in
the new constitution. Mugabe accused his opponents of
delaying tactics to avoid elections.
Mugabe has run the former British colony since independence
in 1980 but is facing increasing questions about his health.
He has travelled to Singapore several times in the last two
years for medical treatment. In April his aides angrily
denied reports he was fighting for his life in a Singapore
Mugabe showed no visible signs of ill-health on Friday,
spending more than an hour at the podium in front of 5,000
delegates inside a new Chinese-built conference centre
outside the central city of Gweru.
Mugabe, who wore a yellow shirt printed with his face and a
yellow baseball cap, said black local ownership rules for
foreign investors applied across the board.
"Even our Chinese friends, we are saying to them: 'In your
country we do not just come'. They have to respect the rules
here," he said.
Analysts say Mugabe's March election call is meant to keep
his supporters ready for battle although some senior ZANU-PF
officials have cast doubt on this timeline, given that a
referendum on a new constitution should also precede any
election, under the power-sharing deal.
A referendum on the new charter, which has been delayed by
two years, is only likely in the first quarter of next year.