Simba Makoni is due to start his election campaign in Zimbabwe's crucial rural areas this week and will address his first-ever political rally as presidential hopeful on Saturday. Peta Thornycroft reports that Makoni appears absolutely certain he will win, but says he is up against two powerful contenders, President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zimbabwean presidential candidate Simba Makoni says he is overwhelmed with support from the ruling ZANU-PF, and the MDC parties as well as from people who were not politically aligned.

He said he has no doubt he will win the March 29 election with at least 70 percent of the vote.

However his campaign has hit some obstacles which some of his associates believe are dirty tricks played by some in Zimbabwe's intelligence community.

Mr. Makoni was unable to begin campaigning in rural areas because the company printing his campaign literature inexplicably ran out of paper, and he could not get his new vehicles registered for the road.

Mr. Makoni calls the problems part of the breakdown of Zimbabwe and blames hyperinflation and almost no foreign currency to import fuel and electricity.

"These are the symptoms of Zimbabwe not working, I am sure I am not the only one who is experiencing this. This economy is in dire straits and there are critical constraints in every branch of our community and our economy. I am taking them as such, and I finding solutions. Zimbabweans are very good at making alternative plans so we are making alternative plans," he said.

He says he expects the elections to be free and fair, and that Zimbabwe's friends and neighbors want the same.

Mr. Makoni said he has had contact with no foreign governments before he announced his candidacy on February 5. He also said he expects to introduce a government of national unity when he comes to power. He said Zimbabwe was well-served by such an administration when the country first achieved independence.

"If you remember what we had in Zimbabwe in April, 1980, it was a national government. We had people from different parties and different ethnic groups. Sometimes I say and maybe it is arrogant, but we offered the African continent, if not the world, national reconciliation. So I am merely reactivating those values which ushered us into independent nationhood in 1980," he said.

He denied what he called malicious reports that he intended to hand back land to white farmers who were dispossessed of their farms, homes and businesses since 2000. He said he would correct the distortions of the land grab, and ensure that the policy of one man, one farm was followed.

"We are going to go to the program policy and strategy that the government has put on the table which defines the parameters around land acquisition, which is equitable fair and transparent. That the aim is to resettle landless peasants and to create commercial farmers on the basis of one person, one farm. The major drive is to uplift rural communities, including those in the communal areas, where the large majority of our people live and who have hardly been touched by land reform," he said.

Makoni said he had a cordial and open relationship with President Mugabe before he announced his candidacy. He said he did not warn Mr. Mugabe that he was going to run for office. Since making the announcement President Mugabe has hurled abuse at his former finance minister and called him a prostitute and a frog.