Robert Mugabe is to blame for the suffering of the Zimbabwean people, his former ally and main rival for the presidency has said.
Simba Makoni, 57, served in President Mugabe's government from the moment the country won independence from Britain in 1980. But his decision last month to challenge Mr Mugabe in the March 29 polls reflects a growing dissatisfaction among leading figures in the ruling Zanu-PF party, who have grown tired of the 84-year-old president and baulk at his determination to remain in his post as the country rapidly disintegrates.
"Zimbabwe is in the condition it is in because of a failure of leadership," said Mr Makoni, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.
Mr Makoni, who will run as an independent candidate after he was expelled from Zanu-PF for daring to challenge the president, said that this realisation had come to him over several years.
"There was not a 'St Paul on the road to Damascus' awakening," he said. "It wasn't an event, it didn't just happen, it was going on as the situation evolved - that this is not the correct way for our people."
With an estimated four million Zimbabweans needing food aid, and with inflation officially running at more than 100,000 per cent, Mr Makoni predicted he would win by a landslide.
"We will win resoundingly, by 70 per cent plus," he said. "The people who are supporting me in Zanu-PF and in other quarters, agree with me that the country is ripe for change at the highest level, that the country needs to take a different direction, a positive direction."
The destruction of Zimbabwe's economy dates from 2000, when Mr Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms. Mr Makoni is calling for an end to race-based policies.
"What we had in Zimbabwe in 1980 was a national government, we had people from different parties and different ethnic groups. We offered the African continent, if not the world, national reconciliation, so I am merely reactivating those values."
But whatever a candidate's vision, winning an election in Zimbabwe is not just a matter of crosses on ballot papers. Mr Mugabe is widely regarded as having stolen the last poll in 2002 - and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) believes that a fair ballot is impossible.
With the ruling Zanu-PF having control over the media and police, the MDC is participating in the elections only under protest. A new constitution that would have changed the political climate was recently agreed but Mr Mugabe announced the election before it could be implemented.
Mr Makoni's campaign alleges it has been victim to "dirty tricks". He was unable to leave Harare to campaign in rural areas yesterday because registration plates for his vehicles were not available. Meanwhile, his printers had supposedly run out of paper to produce fliers.
"I wish and hope and expect this election will be free and fair," Mr Makoni said. He added, however, that he had no access to the state television broadcaster or to the national daily newspapers.
"I respect our president. Up to Feb 5 [when Mr Makoni formally announced his candidacy] we had a good, cordial relationship. I don't know what he feels now."
So what of the comments Mr Mugabe has made since then, comparing him to a prostitute and a frog? "I am puzzled," replied Mr Makoni. "You had best ask him about that."