HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai registered on Friday for elections scheduled for July 31 in which Mugabe is seeking to extend his three-decade rule.
The 89-year-old leader will fight Tsvangirai, 61, for the presidency, while his ZANU-PF party faces Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the parliamentary election after four years in a forced coalition following a disputed 2008 vote.
Welshman Ncube, who leads a splinter MDC party, also entered the presidential race, but the serious contenders are Mugabe and Tsvangirai, a former fiery trade union leader who says the president has rigged elections since 2000 to shut him out.
“As ZANU-PF we are confident of victory. We are supporting our president because we have progressive policies,” Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa told Reuters after registering Mugabe’s candidature at the High Court.
In power since the former Rhodesia’s independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe left Harare for a medical check-up in Singapore on Tuesday. Tsvangirai is already on the campaign trail in Zimbabwe’s southwestern Matabeleland region.
Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, denies reports he suffers from prostrate cancer or other major health problems. He says he has cataracts and is expected home this weekend from what his spokesman called a routine visit to an eye specialist.
“He is fitter than you,” Mnangagwa told a journalist when asked whether Mugabe was healthy.
Tsvangirai has asked the 15-nation Southern African Development Community to prod Mugabe into delaying the poll to allow media and security reforms designed to prevent a repeat of the bloodshed that marred the 2008 election.
The government has asked the Constitutional Court to move the July 31 date, but local political analysts say it might not agree. A ruling on the appeal is expected next week.
“I have no doubt that Morgan Tsvangirai will be the next president of Zimbabwe. We are tired of 33 years of a predatory government that has no love for us,” Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is also MDC Secretary-General, told reporters after registering Tsvangirai’s candidacy.
In March, Zimbabweans overwhelmingly approved a new constitution to replace the one forged in the dying days of British colonial rule in 1979. It trims the powers of the president and enshrines media freedom, among other measures.
Zimbabwe’s current parliament ends this weekend, effectively meaning reforms cannot be pushed through the legislature.
While there are no formal opinion polls, surveys conducted by U.S. political think tank Freedom House and African research group Afro-Barometer give Mugabe a narrow lead over Tsvangirai, whose reputation has suffered dents since entering government.
Reporting By Cris Chinaka; Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Alistair Lyon