A senior member of Zimbabwe's ruling party has endorsed a main rival to President Robert Mugabe in the March 29 presidential election.

Dumiso Dabengwa, a top official in Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, announced his support Saturday for former finance minister Simba Makoni.

Dabengwa said his decision is not about Makoni's capability or strength, but about empowering the people of Zimbabwe to choose the direction of their country.

The 84-year-old Mr. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since the country gained independence form Britain in 1980.

His opponents blame his policies for the current economic crisis. Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate at more than 100,000 percent and is suffering shortages of food, fuel and other basic goods.

But Mr. Mugabe blames these problems on interference from Western countries, particularly former colonial power Britain.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.