THE writing seems to be on the wall: President Robert Mugabe will in December retain the presidency of the ruling Zanu PF at its extraordinary cong
ress in the capital.
Mugabe — at the helm of Zanu PF since 1975 — has over the past six months lined up traditional chiefs, mayors, the party’s women and youth leagues and of late war veterans to drum up support for his continued hold on power.
Party insiders say Mugabe’s candidacy for next year’s presidential poll was unequivocal and no debate would ensue during the congress on the matter as Zanu PF’s 10 provinces would have endorsed the president ahead of the event.
The insiders added that Mugabe was so feared in the party that no one would dare challenge his leadership, let alone suggest that the octogenarian retire from active politics.
Media reports abound that Mugabe’s presidency would be challenged at the congress by a faction in Zanu PF led by retired army general Solomon Mujuru.
Mujuru reportedly wants his wife Joice to take over from Mugabe.
There is another faction in the party backing Rural Housing minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, but that camp is reportedly backing Mugabe’s stay in power.
Political analysts this week said while there was fighting in Zanu PF over the succession issue, Mugabe was likely to be unanimously elected as the party’s president and first secretary.
Mugabe needs the support of at least seven provinces to retain his presidency and is reportedly being backed by Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Harare, Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands and one of the three Matabeleland provinces.
This, analysts said, was despite the fact that there were strong reservations over Mugabe’s leadership style that has seen an unprecedented economic crisis.
This is characterised by high inflation, unemployment of over 85% and rising domestic and foreign debt.
“No one in Zanu PF at the moment can stand up to Mugabe and tell him to go,” political scientist Michael Mhike said. “I foresee Mugabe unanimously nominated by all provinces to run in next year’s presidential election.”
Mhike said while the Mujuru faction successfully opposed Mugabe at Zanu PF’s conference in Goromonzi in December last year from pushing for harmonised local government, legislative and presidential elections in 2010, the camp would not have the stamina to block his candidacy in December.
The Mujuru faction opposed Mugabe until the ageing president with the support of Mnangagwa and Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, three months later, decided that the polls be held next year.
“The question is: can Mujuru get the support of the provinces to kick out Mugabe from power? The answer is negative,” Mhike said. “One can say for certain that Mugabe is Zanu PF’s candidate in the 2008 presidential election.”
Zanu PF insiders seem to concur.
Party spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira this week told Zanu PF’s official mouthpiece, The Voice, that provinces would nominate the party’s presidium ahead of the extraordinary congress.
“Election of the presidency in the past has been done through the provinces, they are asked to identify candidates they want, then the results from each province are announced at the congress,” Shamuyarira said.
“This special congress will follow the same pattern as the provinces: they must indicate the candidates they like; the other organs of the party (central committee and politburo) will also be dealt with in the traditional way.”
Constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku recently said it was a fait accompli that Mugabe will represent Zanu PF in next year’s presidential election.
“It is very naïve for anyone to think that there is still a race for the presidency in Zanu PF. Mugabe is the candidate,” said Madhuku, the chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly.
A senior Zanu PF official who spoke on condition of anonymity said as Mugabe declared in February, there was no vacancy for the presidential post as those moving for his ouster were afraid of a backlash from the veteran ruler.
“The rule that the presidency is nominated by provinces ahead of congress presents problems for those harbouring plans to oust the incumbent,” the Zanu PF official said.
“It is common cause that the outcome of the provinces would be known way ahead of the congress and in the past we know what happened to those who wanted to rearrange the presidium.”
In November 2004, Zanu PF suspended six provincial chairpersons and war veterans leaders after it emerged that they wanted a new-look party presidium made up of Mugabe as president and Mnangagwa and former women’s league boss Thenjiwe Lesabe as his two vice-presidents.
Mnangagwa was to replace Vice-President Joseph Msika, while Lesabe was to fill the vacancy left by the death of Simon Muzenda.
Chinamasa was to come into the presidium as national chairman of the party, taking over from John Nkomo.
The plot, reportedly masterminded by Mnangagwa and former Information and Publicity minister Jonathan Moyo, later known as the Tsholotsho Declaration, saw Mugabe turn on the provincial chairpersons.
They were suspended from occupying party positions for five years while war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda was expelled from Zanu PF.
Provinces were then prodded into nominating Mugabe, Msika, Mujuru and Nkomo into the presidium.
“It is this ghost of 2004 that most provinces are afraid will come to haunt them if they intend to oust Mugabe,” the Zanu PF official said. “The provinces would rather re-elect him than face the music.”
It is strongly believed in Zanu PF that Mugabe would win next year’s poll against the opposition and later retire after serving part of his five-year term.
This would see parliament sitting as an electoral college to elect a new president.
“The real fight between the Zanu PF factions is not to end Mugabe’s tenure in power this year. The factions want to have the majority of their hangers-on elected in both the Senate and the House of Assembly in preparations for Mugabe’s exit,” another Zanu PF official said.
It, therefore, remains to be seen what the outcome of the congress will be, but it seems Mugabe is still around for the time being.