President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, seeking re-election and continued control of parliament for his increasingly troubled ZANU-PF party in national elections March 29, launched into a round of rallies in eastern Manicaland Province on Tuesday.
Mr. Mugabe presided over"star rallies" in the towns of Chipinge and Marange in which he assembled supporters from the province to introduce ruling party candidates from across Manicaland, a ZANU-PF stronghold on the border with Mozambique.
Challenger Simba Makoni, meanwhile, was on a meet-the-people tour in Kadoma in Midlands Province, while opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai was taking a day off from campaigning, sources in his Movement for Democratic Change formation said.
As Mr. Mugabe went on the road, tensions in his ruling party were escalating.
ZANU-PF insiders said hardliners Didymus Mutasa, minister of state security, and Elliot Manyika, the party’s political commissar, were pressing Mr. Mugabe to expel top officials including retired general Vitalis Zvinavashe, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, party stalwart Dzikamai Mavhaire and Matebeleland South Governor Angeline Masuku for allegedly lining up in secret behind Makoni.
Makoni's campaign Web site says Zvinavashe and Mavhaire have endorsed him, while avowed Makoni backer Dumiso Dabengwa says Masuku and Chinamasa were among ZANU-PF rebels who met in South Africa late last year to plot the political downfall of President Mugabe with an electoral challenge by Makoni.
Masuku has admitted being in South Africa, but said she went there with Dabengwa on business and did not meet Makoni at that time. Mavhaire refused to comment to VOA. and Zvinavashe and Chinama’s phones went unanswered.
Local media say Makoni is working with retired army general Solomon Mujuru, spouse of Vice President Joyce Mujuru, but he has refused to comment on his loyalties.
Vice President Mujuru was quoted this week in the state-controlled Herald newspaper endorsing Mr. Mugabe's re-election, though for quite some time signals emanating from the government suggested she and Mr. Mugabe were at daggers drawn.
Political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mugabe’s grip on power looks increasingly shaky.