PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has said he has no plans to retire and will stand in the next presidential election if his party endorses his candidacy — a move which will heighten fears that he is determined to be president for life.
Mugabe’s decision to stay on sets the stage for another bruising fight between him and his fierce rival, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the elections that he says are possibly on for next year.
The 86-year-old leader indicated yesterday elections were coming immediately after the constitution-making process whether the draft constitution is adopted or not at the referendum.
Mugabe made it clear he would want to be the party’s candidate in the elections at a time when both Zanu PF’s main factions led by Solomon Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa are battling to gain influence to field their own candidate. The Mujuru and Mnangagwa camps would like to take control of Zanu PF and have their own candidate in the elections.
However, judging by the Zanu PF congress in December, no one in the party is strong enough to challenge Mugabe for the party leadership. Mugabe was endorsed by all 10 Zanu PF provinces as party leader for the next five years after a good deal of arm-twisting.
Asked by the Zimbabwe Independent at a press briefing with editors at Zimbabwe House in Harare yesterday if he was going to retire soon, Mugabe made it clear that he was not going anywhere.
“May the lord give me many more days,” he said.
When pressed to say if he is going to seek re-election, Mugabe, pointing a finger at this reporter, asked: “Do you want me to go? I am asking you, if you want me to go? Ask Zanu PF. I am a son of Zanu PF.”
When further pressed to respond to the question, Mugabe said: “If Zanu PF says so, yes, I will go for it. It depends on Zanu PF.”
This put to rest speculation that Zanu PF would have a different candidate in the next elections.
If Mugabe was to win another two terms in office — assuming the elections take place under a new constitution — he could extend his leadership to over 40 years in power.
Mugabe said the next elections, which are to be held whenever the constitution-making process is concluded, would be harmonised, meaning they would include local, parliamentary and presidential elections.
“Elections will be a product of success or failure of the constitution-making process. If the constitution succeeds, it will end up in elections — it will be an early election and if it fails, it will also end up in an election,” he said.
Asked if Zimbabweans would be ready considering the traumatic experience of the bloody 2008 presidential run-off poll, Mugabe said people would be ready despite the fact that not much has been done to heal the nation after a brutal attack on the opposition which left more than 200 MDC-T supporters dead and thousands others injured.
“We will make them ready, if there is sufficient guidance by the leadership. What happens on the ground depends on how the parties react to each other. A lot can be done to avoid violence,” he said.
Mugabe also spoke on wide ranging issues including the controversial diamonds mine in Chiadzwa, the performance of the government of national unity (GNU), sanctions, elections, the constitution-making process, relations with China, the land issue, the number of farms his family owns, the indigenisation laws and the media.
Mugabe said journalists should not be arrested for writing critical stories.
“Arresting a journalist just because she has written something you dislike is wrong,” he said.
Mugabe disclosed, after being asked how many farms he owned, that he personally owned Highfield farm in Norton, which he bought in the early 1980s and Gushungo dairy farm in Mazowe, which he said was a family farm. Other farms, he said, belonged to relatives.
On sanctions, Mugabe commended Tsvangirai, who was quoted in the Herald this week calling on the European Union and the United States to lift all sanctions.
He, however, said such a call was not enough, adding that Tsvangirai should set up a team to go to Europe and the United States to lobby for the removal of all sanctions.
Mugabe said his party would play a back-seat role because any active participation might have an opposite effect.
“Is the call made by the Prime Minister enough? He has done a good thing. It’s a good statement. The call must be pursued and I would want to see him set up a team that he believes can be effective to go to Europe and America,” he said.
“The Prime Minister will be listened to better than my side. I want to be in the background because we want to be effective and not play politics about this. I will discuss with the Prime Minister the best way to go.”
On the GNU, Mugabe said the all-inclusive government was working well together to try and turn around the economy.
He said initially there was mistrust, but they have since overcome that and were working well together.
Mugabe admitted that there were some areas they disagreed on, like with the land issue and indigenisation laws, which has the support of Zanu PF but is rejected by MDC-T, which argues that it would scare away investors.
“There are no cracks in the GNU at all. There may be voices of criticism or discontent but that does not amount to cracks in the GNU,” he said.
Mugabe said Zimbabwe’s relations with China have been strained lately because of the US$57 million debt, which the country owed.
He said Finance Minister Tendai Biti had since paid US$5 million, which would see China releasing the agreed US$900 million for the agriculture sector and other areas.
On the media, Mugabe said his government was willing to reconstitute the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), if it was irregularly appointed.
Media, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu announced a Tafataona Mahoso-led BAZ without consulting the Prime Minister.