Zimbabwe's long-time ruler expressed confidence Thursday that his party can win proposed elections, saying there was no need for coercive campaigning or political violence because voters support his party's "progressive" economic ideas.
President Robert Mugabe, 87, has called for elections next year to end a fragile 30-month coalition with the former opposition _ a partnership he described as an impractical "patch on torn trousers."
In an address to his ZANU PF party's annual convention, Mugabe criticized Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party. He said it was "busy chasing women," a reference to widower Tsvangirai's break-up with a commodity broker who claimed he had made her pregnant.
"We think of our people ... we are busy taking care of our country," Mugabe said.
Mugabe's often violent program to seize thousands of white-owned farms since 2000 disrupted the agriculture-based economy. He has also announced plans to force businesses and mines to hand over a 51 percent ownership to black Zimbabweans.
He addressed 6,000 delegates in the city of Bulawayo for 2 1/2 hours Thursday. The convention ends Saturday.
Mugabe warned Zimbabweans to be alert to attempted Western manipulation of mineral resources in gold, platinum and diamonds. Speaking in the local Shona language, he also said the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi befriended the West who wanted Libya's oil. Western powers then "squashed him in broad daylight."
Dewa Mavhinga, a political analyst with the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, told The Associated Press that he feared Mugabe will unilaterally call early elections.
He said violence and allegations of vote-rigging plagued three national elections in the past decade and that there still was no "level political playing field."
Deep divisions in Mugabe's party have emerged over the ability of the ailing leader to remain in control and stop infighting.
U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks earlier this year quoted several top party leaders saying they wanted Mugabe to leave office. Party hardliners loyal to Mugabe have called for such "sell-outs" to be punished and possibly expelled from ZANU PF.
The party's 10 provincial districts in separate meetings have already endorsed Mugabe as its sole presidential candidate against Tsvangirai, 59, in the next elections despite fears over his health.
Mugabe has visited Singapore at least eight times this year for medical treatment. U.S. cables quoted associates of Mugabe as saying he suffers from prostate cancer.
Mavhinga of the Crisis Coalition said the party convention is unlikely to dare tackle leadership changes and was expected to "rubber stamp" Mugabe's leadership.
"The party has invested too much in one person and it's inextricably linked to Mugabe. Without him things will fall apart," he said.