Zimbabwe's president said Thursday that he can't force a poll he wants next year to end a troubled coalition government, saying he was "not in control" of elections in a country he's ruled for three decades.
Regional mediators say elections can't be held until constitutional and democratic reforms are in place, but President Robert Mugabe has pushed for polls and maintains the country is ready. On Thursday during a two-hour speech to members of his ZANU-PF party, he for the first time showed signs of conceding to mediators' calls.
"We were looking forward to holding elections soon but I'm not in control of the mechanism that would lay the road to elections this year," Mugabe said. He said he wanted elections "soon" but did not specify.
But he also accused Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, with whom he has been forced to share power, of "telling lies" by saying that the southern African country is not ready for elections.
Mugabe was forced by regional leaders to join a coalition with former opposition leader Tsvangirai in 2009 after violent and disputed presidential elections in 2008. Mugabe has cited strained relations among coalition members as a reason to hold elections soon to get a new government in place.
Mugabe recently echoed his calls for a 2012 poll, and said it should be in March.
He blamed members of his party for the coalition government, which he said was a "series of negatives."
"This is a heavy price we are paying for the incompatible marriage. We voted for it because we voted against ourselves," Mugabe said.
Mugabe accused ministers from Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change of enjoying power and not wanting to let go.
"Those who are riding the chariots of its (coalition) creation are enjoying," he said. "They don't want the pleasure to go. The coalition is too sweet to be abandoned."
He said progress in the constitution-making process to allow for early elections was "moving at a tortoise pace," a deliberate ploy by Tsvangirai's party to delay elections.
Right groups have said there is always an escalation of violence, arbitrary arrests of Mugabe's opponents when there are calls for elections. But Mugabe says these are "lies" Tsvangirai's party is peddling.
"They are saying there is violence, where there is none; fighting, when there is peace and dictatorship, when we are ruling together," Mugabe said.
An independent rights group, Zimbabwe Peace Project, said last month that 20 cases of assault, intimidation and torture happen in Zimbabwe everyday, mostly perpetrated by Mugabe's supporters.
He said the coalition government has failed to agree on policies supporting farmers, many whom are beneficiaries of the often-violent land seizures of white-owned farms.
"That's why we would want to have this creature called the inclusive government away from the horizon," Mugabe said.