Morgan Tsvangirai tries to pump up party for elections

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe – Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai tried to breathe new life into his party, the Movement for Democratic Change on Friday with plans for a leadership shake-up and a rousing speech in which he called his rivals "oppressors."

Tsvangirai is seeking to strengthen his party’s base as he prepares for another campaign to unseat President Robert Mugabe in elections, expected this year or next.

“The MDC will win the next elections and we will form the next government and we will take Zimbabwe into a new era of peace, prosperity, dignity and hope,” Tsvangirai said at a

congress of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Mugabe, forced into the unity government with Tsvangirai after a disputed election in 2008 marred by violence, has called for a fresh vote this year.

MDC officials have said a vote this year would violate terms of the unity government, end a nascent recovery and could lead to a bloodbath reminiscent of the 2008 vote.

Tsvangirai, whose leadership is not being challenged, aims to use the two-day congress to reshuffle senior posts, heal a party hit by internal fights and reassure supporters he is still capable of ending Mugabe’s three decades in office, MDC officials said.

“Each of us has felt the weight of the oppressor’s baton or the feel of his fist or booted feet. We carry the emotional scars from grieving for our fallen comrades and the trauma of seeing the sacrifices of our liberation heroes desecrated on the altar of political plunder and exploitation,” Tsvangirai said.

Support for MDC dropped to 38 percent last year from 55 percent in 2009, according to a survey in Zimbabwe by U.S.-based research body Freedom House.

Support for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF’s popularity rose to 17 percent in 2010 from 12 percent in 2009, the survey said.

The power-sharing government formed in 2009 has stabilized an economy that was crushed by hyperinflation three years ago. But it has been hit by squabbles over top posts and reforms.

Mugabe has worried overseas investors in the resource-rich state by pressing ahead with plans to force foreign mining companies to surrender 51 percent of their local equity to local blacks in the next six months.

Mugabe, 87, may be doing this to secure cash quickly to help him fund his campaign as he tries to defeat the MDC in the poll, analysts said.

The West has tried to isolate Mugabe, placing sanctions on him for suspected vote rigging and rights abuses.