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By Fikile Mapala

ARTHUR Mutambara, the leader of a faction of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party blew more wind into Simba Makoni's sails on Friday by withdrawing from the presidential race and announcing he will rally behind the former finance minister.

Makoni's campaign has been gaining momentum since he sensationally declared he was running for President on February 5, just days after attempts to strike a unity deal between the two MDC factions -- one led by Morgan Tsvangirai and the other by Mutambara -- collapsed.

On Friday, President Robert Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Makoni had all filed papers with the nomination court in Harare confirming their participation in the March 29 elections.

Following the agreement, set to be officially announced later Friday, Mutambara will now contest for a parliamentary seat in Chitungwiza’s Zengeza West constituency.

He will face former trade unionist Collin Gwiyo who is representing the MDC faction led by Tsvangirai and former war veterans' leader, Patrick Nyaruwata.

Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, the deputy secretary general in Mutambara's MDC told New Friday that Mutambara will deputise Makoni in the event that the latter wins and forms a government of national unity.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga said: “It’s correct that Mutambara will no longer stand for the presidency of this country in the March poll. After the coalition agreement, Simba Makoni will become our presidential candidate if his papers go through as expected before noon.”

The MDC legislator also confirmed that Mutambara was now preparing to file his nomination forms for the Zengeza constituency where he is already a registered voter.

MDC spokesman Gabriel Chaibva confirmed the opposition party’s national council which met in Harare last weekend had endorsed an alliance with Makoni.

Chaibva said: “We are proponents of the single candidate policy. You will remember President Mutambara advocating for this policy in March last year when he said Mutambara will not stand against Tsvangirai and Tsvangirai will not stand against Mutambara. Nothing has changed.”

Chaibva said it was "unfortunate" that Tsvangirai had refused to embrace the one candidate policy resulting in the collapse of the MDC unity talks last week.

He said: “We are convinced that his actions are driven by selfish not national interests. Tsvangirai wants all the power. He thinks he is very popular so he can go it alone. But he is going get the shock of his life when people vote in March."

Makoni launched his maifesto this week as confirmation came that he had been expelled from Zanu PF. He put the economy and constitutional reforms at the heart of his agenda while launching a withering attack on President Mugabe.

Makoni, 57, said: "The Zimbabwe of today... is a nation full of fear, a nation in deep stress, a tense and polarised nation, a nation also characterised by disease and extreme poverty."

A highly regarded former finance minister, he added: "However we believe that solving these problems will not be intractable."

If elected, he promised to "institute a process of national healing and reconciliation".

Conscious of the perils of taking on Mugabe at the ballot box, Makoni said: "Let this not be a contest of fists, a contest of stones, knives and guns, but let it be a contest of ideas, a contest of vision and commitment to the people.

"No one is worth killing for, nor dying for, not Mugabe nor Simba Makoni."

Fay Chung, the first education minister after independence, who is credited with beginning Zimbabwe's extraordinary surge in literacy, said that she would stand for parliament for Makoni's new movement. - Additional reporting Peta Thornycroft

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