Zimbabwe PM regrets lack of reforms for free polls

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said Sunday he was launching his election campaign "with a heavy heart", lamenting that "no reforms" had been put in place to guarantee that upcoming July 31 polls would be free and fair.

"There are no reforms in the media, and other reforms to ensure free and fair elections have not been achieved," said Tsvangirai in launching his campaign against archrival President Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabweans go to the polls in just over three weeks to end the unity government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who were forced to share power after deadly clashes in the 2008 elections.

"We participate with a heavy heart," 61-year-old Tsvangirai told over 10,000 supporters of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Sunday.

The MDC's support has flagged after a poor show over four years in the power-sharing government.

But his party had "tried our best... against serious resistance" to prepare the country for fair polls, he told a stadium in Marondera, a party stronghold 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of Harare.

His supporters were upbeat, thrusting their open palms -- which the MDC uses as its symbol -- in the air and waving party and country flags in the national colours of green, yellow, red, and black.

Marondera was the site of deadly clashes in the last polls five years ago.

Tsvangirai won the most ballots in the first round of that vote, but pulled out of the second round amid violence against his supporters.

Some 200 opposition activists were killed in election-related violence.

Amid the backdrop of unrest the regional and international community then pressed Mugabe into an uneasy power-sharing government with Tsvangirai.

Mugabe, in power for 33 years, issued a fiery rallying call to around 20,000 supporters on Friday when he launched his campaign.

The president threatened to leave regional bloc the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which had pressured him to postpone the polls.

But Tsvangirai said Mugabe had no power to withdraw from the 15-member bloc, which the country depends on heavily for aid.

"Whatever his station, he has no right to pull Zimbabwe out unilaterally without consultation," said Tsvangirai.

Mugabe declared early elections for July 31 which the Constitutional Court on Thursday upheld.

Tsvangirai had called for a three-month delay to allow for a series of reforms that would limit the military's role in politics and strip ghost voters from the electoral roll.

In March the southern African nation approved in a referendum a new constitution that limits presidential powers. Under the charter Mugabe could serve another two five-year terms.

But many of the reforms agreed to have not been implemented.

Mugabe's Zanu-PF party faces an uphill struggle to win over voters, many of whom are disgruntled at the poor state of the economy that has forced millions of Zimbabweans to emigrate to neighbouring countries.

His rival vowed Sunday to fix rampant unemployment if he won the poll.

"The biggest challenge is how to create jobs for millions of young educated Zimbabweans," said Tsvangirai.

"I have no doubt if you give us the mandate we can turn around this country in a positive direction."

"A new Zimbabwe is just a vote away," he added.

New polls were supposed to have been held 18 months after the formation of the power-sharing government in 2009 but were delayed by frequent disagreements over electoral reforms.

Political observers have warned that elections without reforms will be doomed.