Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, interviewed on the eve of his 83rd birthday on Wednesday, defended his proposal to postpone next year's presidential election until 2010 and castigated senior ruling party politicians hoping to become his successor.
At the same time, Mr. Mugabe seemed to withdraw his support from Vice President Joyce Mujuru as a potential success, and to push forward Rural Housing Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former parliamentary speaker.
Seasoned observers said Mr. Mugabe seemed to have lost some of the confidence he projected in public and televised appearances even in recent years, perhaps reflecting the burden of an accelerating economic collapse and rising popular anger.
President Mugabe said the so-called harmonization of elections under which the next presidential ballot, due in 2008, would be held with general elections in 2010, was not intended to extend his term but to improve the administration of elections.
Mr. Mugabe asserted in the interview that if he wanted more time in office he would simply run for re-election and win another six year term.
Seeming to ramble at times and shifting from English into Shona and back again, Mr. Mugabe singled out National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku, a prominent member of the civic opposition, for harsh criticism. The president said the constitutional scholar sought publicity and funding from international donors.
Madhuku dismissed Mr. Mugabe's barbs, telling reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe that by singling him out, President Mugabe showed that he perceives the National Constitutional Assembly as a threat to his government.
Elsewhere, Mr. Mugabe criticized ruling party members for positioning themselves to succeed him when he dies or steps down. He said that even those who are not aiming to take his place are calculating how they would gain from his departure.
Expressing dismay, Mr. Mugabe said, "I didn't expect that, I thought they would say now look, as we look ahead, how do we do it?" The president hinted at frustration with his ruling ZANU-PF party and with what he called "corrupt...dishonest" officials.
Many were shocked when he rebuked his own hand-picked vice president, Joyce Mujuru, and praised her rival in the succession struggle, Rural Housing Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Reports said Mr. Mugabe actually endorsed Mnangagwa as his successor, but state television editors cut those remarks before air time.
Reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe turned to Deputy Editor Bill Saidi of the Standard newspaper for an analysis of what Mr. Mugabe's latest public remarks signaled about the veiled ZANU-PF succession process.