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No Plans To Retire, Says Mugabe - 2004-02-19

Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has announced he will lead his ruling Zanu P-F party into parliamentary elections in March 2005. Mr. Mugabe, who will be 80 on Saturday, appears in good health and has already begun campaigning for the party he has led since independence in 1980.

Mr. Mugabe's election announcement was carried on state-controlled radio Thursday. He said he had no plans to retire from political life, and vowed his party would not be defeated by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in parliamentary elections.

He said the elections will be held in March of 2005 and will lead to what he called the consolidation of the land reform program and the empowerment of the majority of Zimbabweans.

Opposition spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said Wednesday any elections under the present Electoral Act and recent erosions of civil liberties would be what he described as a futile, illegitimate exercise. He said there is not enough time to overhaul the electoral system by March of next year, and, in any case, the ruling Zanu P-F party has given no signal it would even discuss electoral reform.

He said the opposition was engaged in wide debate about the implications of what he said was a massive reduction of the democratic space.

At the last parliamentary elections in 2000, the Movement for Democratic Change, then only nine months old, won 57 out of 120 parliamentary seats. But, as leader of the winning party, Mr. Mugabe is under the current law allowed to appoint an additional 30 legislators.

Barnabas Mangodza, deputy chairman of the pressure group, the Crisis Coalition, said Thursday his organization was calling for an independent election commission, new electoral laws, fair access to public media and free access to the elections by international observers. The current commission is appointed by Mr. Mugabe.