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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Zimbabwe's ousted president Robert Mugabe says he won't vote for his old party

Mr Mugabe has kept a low profile since leaving office in November

Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe holds a news conference at his private residence nicknamed, Blue Roof in Harare, Zimbabwe. Reuters
Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe holds a news conference at his private residence nicknamed, Blue Roof in Harare, Zimbabwe. Reuters

Zimbabwe's former President Robert Mugabe declared he will not vote for Zanu PF, the party that ousted him from office, hours before the country's elections on Monday.

In a surprise press conference, Mr Mugabe said he will not vote for his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa in the elections, the first of their kind since Mr Mugabe was removed from office, and seemingly the freest in decades.

"I will not vote for those who have illegally taken power," Mr Mugabe said, referring to presidential nominee Mnangagwa, who helped orchestrate a quiet coup with military support.

Slow and rambling, Mr Mugabe spoke with bitterness about his removal from office in November, eventually admitting "I cannot vote for Zanu PF," the party he controlled for more than 40 years.

The historic election pits Mr Mugabe's former vice-President Mr Mnangagwa, 77, against the younger opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, 40.

Mr Mugabe said Mr Chamisa "seems to be doing well at his rallies...I wish to meet him if he wins," adding "whoever wins, we wish him well...and let us accept the verdict."

Mr Mugabe previously appeared in a carefully staged photograph with another presidential candidate, Ambrose Mutinhiri, a Mugabe loyalist, who opposed his removal, although this made little impact.

Zimbabweans will be looking for a radical overhaul to save a collapsed economy, looking to attract desperately needed foreign investment.

The current president, and Mr Mugabe's successor, Mr Mnangagwa, has positioned himself as a reformist, inviting back election observers and pledging a free and fair vote.

Mr Chamisa, of the MDC Alliance, uses humour at his rallies to inspire young people to vote for new economic opportunities. At 40-years-old, until November, Mr Chamisa had not known Zimbabwean politics without Mr Mugabe and could be the country's youngest president.

"If Mugabe is able to go to my inauguration that is good news," Chamisa said in response to Mr Mugabe's endorsement.

"I have nothing to do with what president Mugabe would want to say as a voter."

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Read more:

Editorial: Fairness is crucial in Zimbabwe's post-Mugabe election

Zimbabwe's post-Mugabe election: The 'Crocodile' vs the young opposition leader

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The 94-year-old ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, following emancipation from white minority rule in 1980. Mr Mugabe's incumbency was mired with vote-rigging, intimidation and violent land seizures from white farmers.

At the press conference, the ageing president reminded people of his years in prison during his country's fight for liberation, and his efforts to raise education standards. Now, Mr Mugabe calls for a democratic constitution and the people's freedom to speak.

In November last year, Zimbabwe's generals seized control and ushered Mr Mnangagwa to power when it appeared Mr Mugabe was positioning his 53-year-old wife, Grace, to succeed him.

The former president blamed his removal from office – an event met with public celebrations in the capital – on "evil and malicious characters." Although his abdication seemed inevitable given the pressure, Mr Mugabe said he only resigned to avoid bloodshed.

Today's press conference was a rare public appearance since the former leader resigned. In December he was seen at a hospital in Singapore on an international medical visit, part of the retirement package allocated for former presidents.

The former "Big Man" was next photographed on his birthday in February at "Blue Roof", his Harare retreat, where he spends most of his time. The event, previously celebrated with grand ceremonies and outpouring of praise, was a black-tie affair for close family only. Photographs showed Mr Mugabe in a bow tie and his wife, Grace, wearing a red dress.

Sunday's address was only his second since he resigned. Speaking to reporters at "Blue Roof" in March, the former president appeared depressed and expressed shock that his long-time ally had succeeded him.

"We must undo this disgrace which we have imposed on ourselves... Zimbabwe doesn't deserve it," he said in press interviews, adding he did not want to return to power. "I never thought...[Mr Mnangagwa] would be the man who turned against me," he said.

Mrs Mugabe was on hand in a domestic role, handing out pizza to guests, as Mr Mugabe insisted rumours of his plans for his wife's succession were "rubbish."

In Monday's press conference, as journalists started to leave, the former president, once one of the great strongmen of Africa, said: "I tried to do my best."