MARONDERA, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's prime minister said Sunday his party is ready to contest elections on July 31 despite worries that the poll is taking place before democratic reforms can be completed.
Speaking at a gathering to kick off his party's three-week campaign, Morgan Tsvangirai said he has had to bow to pressure for an early vote. It was the former opposition leader's first official acceptance of the July date set by President Robert Mugabe.
He said he had read "the national mood" felt by ordinary Zimbabweans to end years of suffering in a political and economic crisis created by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
Tsvangirai said Zimbabweans are eager to vote Mugabe out of power.
"The national mood is people want to stop the suffering they have experienced under Mugabe," Tsvangirai said.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.
Mugabe set the national vote for the end of July arguing that he was obeying a court ruling following a private lawsuit that was brought against him ordering him to call for early polls.
Tsvangirai had appealed against the July polls citing the date didn't give the nation enough time to carry out reforms in the police and military loyal to Mugabe widely blamed for state-orchestrated violence and intimidation in previous elections.
Mugabe was forced to form a coalition government with Tsvangirai by regional leaders after violent and disputed elections in 2008.
Tsvangirai said under the power-sharing government, Mugabe needs his consent before an election can be declared and no consultation was done.
He told about 20,000 supporters gathered at a soccer stadium in the provincial town of Marondera that he is going into the polls with "a heavy heart" because Mugabe had not kept his word on implementing the much-needed reforms and the amendment to electoral laws that critics say have led to vote-rigging in the past.
"We have had to face elections without reforms," Tsvangirai said. "Mugabe has made a concerted effort to rob the election before it has begun."
He described Mugabe as a "leopard that has remained faithful to its spots."
After two failed attempts for the nation's presidency, Tsvangirai said he is certain of victory this time around.
"We have walked a long tortuous journey, we have faith in God. We know we will triumph," he said.
Tsvangirai said his party will ensure a return to stability that will create jobs in the battered economy that faces record unemployment since a meltdown triggered by the often-violent seizures of thousands of white- owned commercial farms, which began in 2000 and collapsed the agriculture-based economy.
A survey by a U.S.-based research group, Freedom House, reported last year that Tsvangirai's popular support was waning over having not delivered reforms since joining the coalition government with Mugabe, claims he disputes, saying his party was given no effective powers in the government.
"Skeptics say we have no policies, but we have got policies to save this country," Tsvangirai said Sunday.
He cautioned against a recurrence of violence and intimidation that have plagued previous polls also amid allegations of vote rigging.
"I know you will walk with me. Don't worry about violence and rigging. They can kill us, but they can never succeed in winning the hearts of Zimbabweans," he said.