Robert Mugabe launched the latest round of election campaigning in Zimbabwe by taunting his former propaganda chief Jonathan Moyo and accusing him of seeking to engineer a military coup.
The embattled President said his former aide and de facto prime minister, who will stand as an independent in the general election on 31 March, burst into tears when confronted over the alleged coup attempt.
"We asked him why he went to meet [army commander General Philip] Sibanda, whether he wanted to stage a coup in his favour, and tears started flowing down his cheeks," Mr Mugabe said.
The President turned up the rhetoric against his sacked spin doctor and former information minister, just as reports emerged that Mr Moyo was on the verge of leading a splinter party that would weaken the ruling Zanu-PF Party.
Mr Mugabe's accusation comes in the wake of Mr Moyo's election manifesto in which he attacks his former boss as a dictator and pledges to lobby for the curtailment of his executive powers if he wins a parliamentary seat next week.
It has since emerged that a number of wealthy but disgruntled Zanu-PF officials are surreptitiously financing Mr Moyo's campaign to win his rural home seat of Tsholotsho. They are also secretly funding a dozen other former party officials contesting as independents because of their disenchantment with Mr Mugabe's authoritarian style.
Zanu-PF insiders said if Mr Moyo, the most high profile of the independents, wins, a plan has already been hatched to form a splinter political party with him at the helm. Already war veterans, whom Mr Mugabe relied upon to retain power in the last parliamentary and presidential elections, through a sustained campaign of violence, have refused to back him this time round because of many unfulfilled promises.
If the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), weighed down by years of violence and intimidation, fails to dislodge Mr Mugabe from power, a new splinter grouping from within Zanu-PF is seen as a realistic alternative.
Hence insiders say Mr Mugabe is now raising coup allegations against Mr Moyo, a pretext for charging him with treason should he win Tsholotsho and challenge his former boss. Three similar treason charges made against the MDC's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, pushed him out of the political scene as he was unable to effectively lead his party while fighting the court cases.
"If Moyo wins, he would have proved that there is life after Mugabe and you can challenge him [Mugabe] yet survive politically. There will therefore be a mass exodus from Zanu-PF," a senior party official told The Independent.
On the campaign trail, Mr Mugabe has therefore not only made an issue out of his main opponent, Mr Tsvangirai, he has also targeted Mr Moyo in addition and made outspoken attacks on Tony Blair.
At his rallies, Mr Mugabe is urging the electorate to shun Mr Tsvangirai because "he will return" seized white farms back to their white owners at the expense of blacks. He is also repeatedly attacking Mr Blair accusing him of plotting to effect regime change in Zimbabwe via Mr Tsvangirai.
Although he made a humiliating climbdown, admitting that his government lied about the state of food reserves last year when it said it had enough food to feed Zimbabweans, Mr Mugabe is exhorting people to vote for his party once again. "When your father fails to give you food, do you say he is no longer your father and you completely disown him or you help him provide for the family?" he told supporters at a recent rally.Reuse content