HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said Monday that he reserves the right to disregard efforts by South African President Jacob Zuma to mediate disputes in the nation's troubled coalition government.
Mugabe also repeated his pledge to hold elections this year, even if it means defying Zuma and other regional leaders who say new polls should be held only after a new democratic constitution is in place.
"This year we must have elections, they must take place with or without a new constitution," Mugabe said in interviews aired by the state broadcaster on the eve of his 88th birthday.
He said he held sufficient powers to announce a 2012 election date. "And I will. If there are those who don't want an election, they are free not to go" to polls, Mugabe said.
Zuma is tasked by the Southern Africa Development Community to help steer Zimbabwe toward free and fair elections to end the three-year power sharing deal the regional bloc brokered after violent elections in 2008. Mugabe is in the power sharing deal with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a former opposition leader.
On state television, Mugabe described the often-delayed rewriting of the constitution as flawed and manipulated by his opponents. He said he was not afraid of angering the region and facing isolation.
"We will tell SADC what the problem is. SADC cannot tell us to continue with an exercise that is futile," he said.
His party would withdraw from the coalition "if others continue to play dirty tricks that we can't put up with any more. Then we return to the existing constitution," which was adopted after independence in 1980.
Mugabe, speaking on television and radio in separate interviews of 90 minutes each, said he was "as fit as a fiddle" despite what some critics have said. In a departure from usual practice, he spoke to state radio in the local Shona language targeting mass listeners.
Apparently "I have died many times. I have actually beaten Jesus Christ because he only died once," he told state radio.
He told the television audience, speaking in English, it would be up to Zimbabweans as a whole to choose his successor "when I say I am retiring."
"At this age, I can still go some distance, can't I?" he added.
He put his longevity down to rising at 5 a.m. for a daily exercise routine, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco and a balanced diet.
"There are things one must do for oneself. Don't drink at all, don't smoke, you must exercise and eat vegetables and fruit," he said.