Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe officially opened his ZANU-PF party’s annual conference on Thursday at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair grounds in Bulawayo, calling for elections to be held next year to end the troubled unity government.
In an address of more than two hours, Mr. Mugabe told supporters he was confident his party would win the elections, so there was no need for coercive campaigning or political violence because voters support his party's "progressive" economic ideas.
The 87-year old leader described the power-sharing government as an impractical "patch on torn trousers." The so-called inclusive government was launched in early 2009 on the basis of the 2008 Global Political Agreement, which provided a way out of the impasse in the country following national elections scarred by deadly political violence.
ZANU-PF governs with the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change whose largest wing is led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
"We're saying time has come now to prepare for elections," Mr. Mugabe said. "We just have to have elections next year. Let's go to an election so people can choose a government of their liking."
He criticized Mr. Tsvangirai's party, saying its members are "busy chasing women," in an apparent reference to Mr. Tsvangirai's break-up with the 39-year-old businesswoman Locadia Karimatsenga Tembo who claims to be pregnant with his twins.
Mr. Mugabe said the government will press on with the controversial indigenization or economic empowerment program which obliges all foreign-owned firms to cede a 51 percent stake in their equity to local blacks on uncertain compensation terms.
"We will not reverse this policy," the president told 6,000 delegates. "For years now, even before I was born after this country was colonized, our resources, mining resources have been disappearing." He said Zimbabwe wants partners and technology, "but let the majority of the companies be our companies in total."
Mr. Mugabe added: “We think of our people ... we are busy taking care of our country.”
Delegates from regional liberation movements including the African National Congress of South Africa and Mozambique’s Frelimo were present. The only head of state invited to the conference, Zambian President Michael Sata, declined to attend.
The ZANU-PF conference is running under the theme: ‘Defend national sovereignty, consolidate indigenization and economic empowerment.”
President Mugabe also told delegates the United Nations is now being used by Western powers to target African nations, in an apparent reference to the felling of the late "naive" Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi by Nato and insurgent forces.
Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said using indigenization as a campaign tool will backfire on ZANU-PF.
For views on the conference, VOA reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to political analyst Livingstone Dzikira, who was attending the ZANU-PF gathering, and Patrick Smith, London-based editor of Africa Confidential newsletter.
Dzikira says ZANU-PF will emerge from its annual gathering strengthened and energized for the elections it insists must be held next year.
Smith said ZANU-PF has benefited from being in the coalition government with the MDC because the economy is in much better shape than it was in 2008 when output collapsed and the Zimbabwean dollar was ravaged by hyperinflation and eventually discarded.