Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (File)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (File)

Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe told his followers to prepare for elections he said would be held soon.

The president was speaking in his capacity as the leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front or Zanu-PF at the end of the party's congress. "Elections are not very far off, the inclusive government was given a short life, 18 months, 24 months and so the remaining part of its life is very short," he said.

ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority to the Movement for Democratic Change or MDC in last year's general elections. Mr. Mugabe also lost to the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential race. Tsvangirai however failed to win the required majority. He later pulled out of the run-off poll citing violence against his supporters. Mr. Mugabe and Tsvangirai later formed a power-sharing government in a bid to end a decade of political and economic turmoil.

Mr. Mugabe appealed for an end to the infighting that has rocked his party during the run-up to the congress ostensibly for senior position in the party. But observers say its about who will succeed the 85 year-old leader who has been at the helm of the party since the mid 1970s.

The congress endorsed Mr. Mugabe as party leader, which means he will be its presidential candidate whenever elections are held. The deal that brought about the national unity government talks about elections in the near future, which was referred to by Mr. Mugabe, but observers say the most likely date is 2013. The party retained Joice Mujuru as Mr. Mugabe's deputy while party chairman John Nkomo filled the position of second vice president left vacant by the death of Joseph Msika earlier this year. Nkomo will be sworn in Monday.

Members of the Zanu-PF central committee were also announced to applause at the congress but the longest and loudest ovation was reserved for Jonathan Moyo. He left Zanu-PF in a huff after the party dropped him as a parliamentary candidate over his hosting of a meeting where the succession to Mr. Mugabe was allegedly discussed.

As minister of information, Moyo is widely believed to be behind Zimbabwe's tough media laws that saw several private newspapers shut down and journalists arrested and beaten up. As an independent member of parliament he launched vicious attacks on Mr. Mugabe and his party. He however decided to return to the former ruling party earlier this year.

In an apparent reference to demands by his MDC partners in the national unity government for reform of the security services Mr. Mugabe said maneuvers to tamper with the forces will never be entertained by his party. "As Zanu-PF the defense of our sovereignty rests with us and with no other. We fought for freedom and independence, fought for our land," he said.

The top ranks of Zimbabwe's defense forces are made up of veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war. They have said they would never recognize Mr. Tsvangirai's leadership.