HARARE (Reuters) – Former President Robert Mugabe said he would vote for Zimbabwe's opposition in Monday's election and turn on former allies in the government before the first election, which had disempowered him in a de facto coup d'état.
Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe meets at a private meeting in his private residence nicknamed "Blue Roof" in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 29, 201
The 75-year-old President will be present at the election Emmerson Mnangagwa, a longtime Mugabe ally, faces 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor fighting for Zimbabwe's youngest head of state.
Surveys that are unreliable give former intelligence chief Mnangagwa only a weak lead over Chamisa, so a runoff is possible on 8 September.
Mugabe, whose 37-year reign ended when he was forced to resign in November, told reporters at his villa in Harare on Sunday that Mnangagwa's government was unconstitutional and ruled by the gun.
"I hope that the election of tomorrow's elections will throw away the military government and bring us back to the Constitution," said a faint-looking Mugabe in an extravagant speech that lasted almost an hour.
"I said I can not vote for those who made me be in this situation … so Chamisa is left."
Mugabe, one of the last "great men" of African politics , still has great significance for Zimbabwean politics and may still influence its first choice on the ballot since the country's independence from Britain in 1980.
Although he became increasingly unpopular with most Zimbabweans because of mismanagement and corruption in the economy catapulted into decline, he retains support in his rural heartland, where followers are still fierce sort of his distance.
Mnangagwa, known as "the crocodile", an animal famous for its camouflage and ruthlessness in Zimbabwe, was deposed by Mugabe as Vice President last November to make room for his wife Grace to seize power say analysts.
That was too much for army generals to roll military vehicles through the streets of Harare and keep Mugabe under house arrest until he resigned with immediate charges.
Mugabe said on Sunday that it was "total nonsense" that he wanted his wife to succeed him, claiming that he was ready to step down at a ZANU-PF congress in December explained.
Such is the draw that Mugabe keeps seven months after his resignation when he came to the center of questions at a parallel press conference held by Chamisa.
"Mr. Mugabe's wishes are his wishes, I will accept every voter with open hands, the more the better," said Chamisa in response to a question about Mugabe's support.
Mugabe elections were often undermined by voter violence, rigging and intimidation.
Chamisa's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has already questioned the electoral process and accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
There have been reports of intimidation and coercion, and state media are biased towards Zimbabwe's ruling African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). But there is agreement that the process was better than before.
Mnangagwa has welcomed foreign media and international observers from the EU, the United States and the Commonwealth, while the opposition parties are free to campaign.
If Chamisa denies the result or no candidate gets more than 50 percent and there is a run-off, there are fears of street protests and possible violence.
Dozens of people died in 2008 in a runoff election between Mugabe and MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai, who died in February. Tsvangirai retired from the competition before the vote to stop the bloodshed.
"A runoff is more likely, which also increases the risk of violence, as it did in previous election cycles," said Robert Besseling, an analyst at EXX Africa.
"Although an outbreak of widespread violence is not expected, as in 2008, the frequency and intensity of local violence are increasing."
Reporting by Macdonald Dzirutwe; Writing by Joe Brock; Edited by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean