LONDON, England (CNN) -- If Morgan Tsvangirai does become the next president of Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe, then there can be few current world leaders who have suffered as much in their struggle to assume office.
Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change campaigns in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has become the main focus of opposition to President Mugabe and his three-decade rule in Zimbabwe during recent years.
He unsuccessfully fought Mugabe at the ballot box in 2000, 2002 and 2005, although many observers have questioned those elections and the legitimacy of Mugabe's wins.
Tsvangirai, who left school at the age of 16 to work in textiles and mining, earned his political dues with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the UK's Press Association reported, and by 1988 had become the movement's secretary general.
It was his opposition to Mugabe's land reform measures -- and the subsequent social and economic chaos they sparked -- that drew him into direct conflict with the authorities.
For the last decade Tsvangirai and other members of the opposition have been subject to repeated surveillance and crackdowns, including beatings.
He was attacked in 1999, when rumors alleged he was about to oppose Mugabe at the ballot box, and was threatened with being thrown out of a 10th-story window, the UK Press Association reported.
That he was a potential rival to Mugabe become clear in 2000, when the MDC secured only five less seats than the ruling ZANU-PF headed by Mugabe, in a parliamentary vote.
Tsvangirai was then charged with treason and planning to kill the president in 2002, only two weeks before the election. The authorities also alleged that he called for Mugabe to be deposed from office.
At the time Tsvangirai told CNN: "These are contrived charges and the whole thing smacks of a political conspiracy to undermine my image ahead of the presidential elections."
One of the defining images of political life in Zimbabwe was last March, when Tsvangirai and other leading members of the MDC were pictured after being beaten and detained by the police during a crackdown by authorities.
At the time he alleged that the Mugabe government had been behind the attack. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded the "immediate and unconditional release" of the MDC leaders, and called Mugabe's regime "ruthless and repressive." E-mail to a friend