Three opposition politicians in Zimbabwe on Friday registered to take on President Mugabe in a 29 March poll expected to be the toughest the veteran leader has fought yet. They are Simba Makoni, Morgan Tsvangirai and Langton Toungana.
Former finance minister Simba Makoni, broke away from the ruling ZANU-PF party t wo weeks ago, accusing Mugabe of running down the country, and unilaterally impo s ing himself as presidential candidate last December.
He commands strong support in the business sector and among the urban electorate , who see him as having the best potential among the presidential contenders to r evive Zimbabwe’s wrecked economy.
Makoni, who is also a former executive secretary of the Southern Africa Developm ent Community (SADC), on Friday also won crucial backing from Arthur Mutambara, a key opposition leader, who pulled out of the race in support of his bid. “Makoni is a brave Zimbabwean who has the potential to galvanise support across the political divide and unifying all progressive forces of change,” Mutambara said.
Veteran opposition campaigner Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic C hange, also registered on Friday, the last day for all candidates to file their n omination papers for the poll, to be held simultaneously with senatorial, lower h ouse of parliament and local government elections.
The third opposition candidate, Langton Toungana, is a little known politician s uspected to have been fielded by the establishment to help split the opposition vote, and validate the poll after earlier opposition threats to boycott the election over demands for electoral reforms and new constitution. Observers said the poll, held against the backdrop of unprecedented economic hardships in the country, would be a three-horse race between Mugabe, Makoni and Tsvangirai.
On Friday, a government statistics agency reported inflation at over 66,000 percent for December last year, the highest on record in Zimbabwe. Makoni, who quit government a few years ago over economic policy differences with Mugabe, has said he would prioritise economic reforms and re-engagement of key
Western donors if elected. Mugabe, who has been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, has been ba nished by donors over his controversial land reforms under which he has forcibly grabbed farmland from white farmers to resettle black Zimbabweans.
Tsvangirai, who unsuccessfully tried to dislodge Mugabe from power in 2002, espo uses similar policies to Makoni’s, and also has strong urban support among the poor.
Mugabe draws most of his support from rural areas.