Spokesmen for Zimbabwean presidential candidates Morgan Tsvangirai and Simba Makoni returned fire Saturday at Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri for comments Friday endorsing President Robert Mugabe’s re-election and saying that what he termed Western “puppets” would not be allowed to lead the country.
Speaking at a ceremony dispatching police officers to peacekeeping duties in Liberia, Chihuri declared, “We will not allow puppets to take charge.” President Mugabe has accused his opponents of serving U.S. and British aims in Zimbabwe, including regime change and the reversal of the land reform program he launched in 2000.
Spokesman Denford Magora for independent candidate Makoni said Zimbabwe is not a military state and that the army and police must obey the will of the people.
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai's formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Chihuri's statements amounted to what he called a “constitutional coup.”
Independent candidate Langton Towungana described the statements by Chihuri and similar remarks by other security service chiefs as “inflammatory.”
In the Midlands capital of Gweru, meanwhile, presidential candidate and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai told supporters that he is opening what he called a “new phase of the struggle” to unseat Mr. Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party.
Tsvangirai told an estimated 15,000 supporters Zimbabwe must look ahead instead of to the past for solutions, meaning ZANU-PF must be voted out of power.
Correspondent Taurai Shava of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported.
Elsewhere, Makoni was in Masvingo, the capital of Masvingo Province, drumming up support in a rally at Mucheke Stadium where he told an estimated 1,000 assembled that the policies of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF have failed.
In an interview, Makoni spokesman Denford Magora said the candidate is seeking to sharpen the contrast between his message and that of Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
Meanwhile, President Mugabe was urging his supporters to reject his opponents including Makoni by voting en masse for ZANU-PF. Mr. Mugabe told a rally in Mount Darwin in Mashonaland Central, a ruling party stronghold, in an apparent reference to Makoni, that "genuine leaders are elected by the people, they do not just come from nowhere and try to force themselves on the people.”
The campaign took a surprising turn this week with the emergence of polling data showing Tsvangirai with an imposing lead over President Mugabe.
A poll taken by the Mass Public Opinion Institute in February showed Mr. Mugabe with the support of 30% of those polled versus 28% for Tsvangirai and 12% for Makoni - but unofficial MPOI data gathered in March and leaked on Friday showed Tsvangirai with 28% of support vs. 20% for Mr. Mugabe and 9% for Makoni.
Some 31 percent of voters declined to respond, an MPOI official said.