TSHOLOTSHO, Zimbabwe, March 25 -- As the government's chief spin doctor, Jonathan Moyo labeled opposition figures traitors. He composed songs praising the ruling party. And, after shutting down most independent newspapers, he so dominated Zimbabwe's compliant state-owned press that some said his voice overwhelmed even that of his boss, President Robert Mugabe.
But in a reversal of fortune that has become a national political soap opera, Mugabe has turned on Moyo, firing his former information minister and accusing him this week of plotting a coup. Moyo, in turn, has denounced Mugabe and his closest advisers in a series of scathing public comments that offer insights into one of Africa's most secretive and repressive ruling parties.
Supporters of Jonathan Moyo, who lost his job as Zimbabwe's information minister last month, put up posters in his home town of Tsholotsho. Moyo is running as an independent in March 31 elections.
In an interview at his home here Friday, Moyo refused to comment on the accusations of coup-plotting, but he described the party he served for five years as aging, undemocratic, riven by internal disputes, filled with "deadwood" and likely to fall from power over the next several years.
"We are a young, dynamic society led by an old, stagnant clique," said Moyo, 48, who is running for parliament as an independent candidate from his dusty, remote home town of Tsholotsho in southwestern Zimbabwe. National elections are scheduled for Thursday.
Few predict that Zimbabwe's main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, will emerge with a majority of the 120 seats being contested. Political analysts, human rights groups and opposition figures have all predicted widespread manipulation of voter rolls and other forms of deceit to allow Mugabe's party to maintain power.
But other opponents echo Moyo's claim that Mugabe's party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, is at one of its weakest points since it took power after Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980.
Moyo said Mugabe's party could lose even with vote-rigging because of its decreasing popularity in rural areas and the growing organizational sophistication of the opposition. He said Mugabe's stated goal of winning two-thirds of the contested seats was virtually unreachable because the party's message had grown vague and muddled.
"It's quite possible ZANU-PF could lose these elections," he said, using the initials for Mugabe's party. "The democratic experience is working in Zimbabwe. . . . The people in Zimbabwe are understanding what democracy means. Zimbabwe will be transformed democratically. I have no doubt about that."
Moyo, a former political science professor educated partly in Southern California, is trim and tall. On Friday, he wore rimless glasses, black shoes and a black cowboy hat. His shirt, also black and featuring a picture of himself, bore the slogan "Vote Prof. Jonathan Moyo."
Yet despite Moyo's effort to return to power through Thursday's balloting, his credentials as a supporter of democracy have repeatedly been questioned by both ruling party figures and members of the opposition.
During his tenure as information minister, human rights groups rated Zimbabwe's government as one of the most hostile in the world to press freedoms. He banned foreign correspondents from reporting without explicit official approval and crafted a law that imposed a two-year prison sentence on any journalist who slipped into the country.
On Wednesday, Mugabe traveled here to publicly attack Moyo as an opponent of both the ruling party and democracy. Mugabe said he had warned Moyo against breaking with the government, telling him, "The whole machinery of the party will fall on you and you will be demolished," according to the state-owned Chronicle newspaper.
During the same appearance, Mugabe also suggested that Moyo had plotted a coup in his final days as information minister, meeting with senior military commanders and doing "terrible things."
The Chronicle, which Moyo once controlled, fixed on a potentially embarrassing detail in Mugabe's account: When Moyo was privately confronted with evidence of his duplicity, the president said, "tears started flowing down his cheeks."