HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s president on Friday officially opened a ruling party congress that aims to renominate him as the party’s presidential candidate in next year’s election, but soaring inflation and the government’s crackdown on dissent are fueling tensions in the southern African country.

The ruling ZANU-PF party will on Saturday officially nominate President Emmerson Mnangagwa as its election candidate and party leader for the next 5 years, a choreographed move that has already been approved by all party bodies.

However, the 80-year-old is likely to face a strong challenge from popular opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, 44, who he narrowly edged out in 2018.

Mnangagwa took over from his mentor, the late Robert Mugabe, after a coup in 2017 and after winning a disputed election the following year.

“Let’s give him another five years… to push our country to the land of our dreams. He is the only candidate we know,” Vice President and former army general Constantino Chiwenga said to applause from hundreds of party supporters in the capital Harare, many dressed in the party’s green, yellow and red colors emblazoned with the president’s face.

In turn, Mnangagwa promised a “thunderous victory”.

“We declare our readiness to once again receive another mandate for management. Under our supervision, ZANU-PF will continue to rule this land,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s electoral body says general elections must be held by August next year. But many in the opposition say they are already fighting a brutal state crackdown similar to that of Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule.

Dozens of people — including opposition supporters, political activists, journalists, church leaders, trade unionists and student leaders — have been arrested, detained or stood trial on charges that some legal experts equate to persecution.

Criticism of Mnangagwa’s government has been sparked by Zimbabwe’s 268% inflation rate, now considered one of the highest in the world. An increasing number of people are forced into informal trade, such as street trading.

Mnangagwa blames his country’s economic problems on sanctions imposed by the United States nearly two decades ago.

In a tweet on October 25, the annual date set by Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Community to lobby against the sanctions, the US Embassy in Harare said “the immediate impact of the sanctions on the average Zimbabwean is minimal compared to the economic devastation caused by years of corruption, poor policy choices and mismanagement in the economy.”

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