Zimbabwe's President Says 2012 Polls 'definite'

Published February 19, 2012 9:45AM (EST)

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe said Sunday he will "definitely" call elections this year to end a fragile three-year coalition with the former opposition, while describing as "cowards" politicians who say polls cannot be held until well into 2013.

In an interview to mark his 88th birthday in the state media Sunday, Mugabe dismissed objections to early polls.

"That is what cowards say. Elections can happen at any time ... Definitely, yes," this year, he said.

Mugabe turns 88 on Tuesday. Speaking to the loyalist Sunday Mail newspaper, he said money will be found in the embattled economy to pay for the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party says polling cannot go ahead until constitutional reforms are complete and rights groups have warned of an imminent upsurge of election violence.

The interview will be broadcast on state television Monday.

Zimbabwe's power-sharing coalition was formed after disputed and violence-plagued elections in 2008. Mugabe's party, in power since independence in 1980, lost the parliament race and Tsvangirai boycotted a presidential run-off to protest violence and intimidation of his supporters.

Mugabe acknowledged in the birthday interview there were "negative forces" in his party in 2008 along with factions wanting to see him defeated.

He said he had not groomed a successor.

"There is no one who can stand and win at the moment," he said, adding to that to groom a successor "will cause much more division in the party."

At its annual convention in December, Mugabe's ZANU-PF party nominated him as its sole presidential candidate in future elections.

Changes to the constitution have proposed a limited presidential term of 10 years and prohibiting candidates older than 70 years of age. That is a disputed clause in the changes that Mugabe's party says he will refuse to sign into law as it disqualifies him from running again.

Mugabe said any new constitution should reflect the people's views and those calling for an age limit were afraid of losing the vote to him.

He likened his critics to "barking dogs" found in homes everywhere.

He called Tsvangirai's party "dishonest" and said it relied too much on support from the West.

"They want us to go back to a system where there is great reliance on foreign investment, support and on foreign advisers," he said. "They are for whites being the main players. We rely on our views ... the good views we have adopted from socialists in the past."

As is customary at birthdays, Mugabe referred to his personal life, saying he cherished his time as a schoolteacher and, later in life, his determination in politics.

"If I believe in something and I am determined, I don't go back," he said.

He wanted to be remembered "just for what I am, a man, lover of my people and a fighter of oppression."

By Salon Staff

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