“In 12 months time we have an election in this country. Let it be free and let it be peaceful,” said Morgan Tsvangirai, speaking in Bulawayo — about 450km south-west of Harare — to his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party supporters ahead of a congress set for Friday.
At the congress new MDC leadership will be elected to prepare for general elections in which Tsvangirai will lock horns with President Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai predicted the MDC will win, ending the coalition government that has ruled Zimbabwe since 2009.
“We are the next government of this country responsible to deal with unemployment which is over 85 percent. We have to resuscitate the economy and make it one of the best in Africa,” added Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai and Mugabe formed a fragile coalition government in 2009 after a disputed, violent election in 2008. But the coalition has been marred by disagreements between the former political foes.
“People’s will must be respected (in the next elections). The outcome of the polls must not be contested,” said Tsvangirai.
“Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF took this country to its knees in 30 years. We have a duty in the next government to bring it back,” added Tsvangirai, critical of his coalition partner and his party.
Zimbabwe experienced a decade of negative economic growth before the formation of the coalition government, he noted.
Mugabe has indicated that he wants an election this year to end the coalition government. But earlier this week, the country’s finance minister said the economy was not performing well enough to finance an election this year.
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is expected to attend the MDC congress on Friday as “the guest of honor”.
Odinga, a fierce critic of Mugabe, was Kenya’s opposition leader before joining President Mwai Kibaki in a 2008 power-sharing deal following contested elections that sparked tribal violence in that country.
A similar deal was later agreed to in Zimbabwe by Tsvangirai and his long-time rival Mugabe.
This will be the first time that Odinga has visited Zimbabwe since being appointed prime minister. CNN