Lining Up For Mugabe’s Job?

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There is intense jockeying for President Robert Mugabe's job, should he one day retire, by two main rival camps within his ruling Zanu PF party. One side is believed to be headed by former army commander, a retired general, Solomon Mujuru and another by cabinet minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mugabe himself says he has no plans to be life president. "I will retire, of course, someday, but it all depends on the circumstances,� he says, as Zanu PF holds its annual conference. “I can't retire if my party is going to be in shambles. But any day we feel we are ready for that retirement, that is we as a party feel we are ready for it, sure."

Mugabe, speaking with Omni television, says it was his suggestion that the presidential elections and parliamentary elections should be harmonized and held in one vote to cut the presidential term, which he felt, was too long. "Well, well, actually the suggestion came from me earlier on. I said the six-year term for the president was far too long, and then, of course, it produced the disparity and imbalance and the discord between the parliamentary and presidential elections," he says.

"I think it is better to have the two together. What it means is that, we remove one year from six and get five years for the president and five years for the Parliament, and we synchronize the system of elections. Then, there is harmony and that's what we want," he adds.

Presidential elections were due in 2008 and parliamentary elections in 2010, but the ruling party’s on-going conference, which started December 13 and ends December 16,  now is pushing for the harmonization of the elections, something which requires constitutional changes. If the party approves this, as is expected, it will then push for constitutional changes in Parliament to extend Mugabe's presidential term by two years until 2010.

Zimbabwe last held presidential and parliamentary polls at the same time in 1990. The decision to extend Mugabe's term of office has numbed some party members jockeying for power. Zanu PF Secretary for Administration Didymus Mutasa has ruled out that the succession issue will be high on the agenda at this year's party conference. "The succession issue is not on the agenda but could arise as any other business as part of the resolutions. The issue cannot be said to be the main topic of the conference," he notes.

Mugabe, who turns 83 next February has in the past fired volleys at his party members jockeying for power clandestinely: "Even before the term of the President they want the seat. I haven't completed my term, but you are already waiting by the door like a witch."

Mugabe, in power since 1980, has repeatedly said his successor must be chosen by the people and that those with qualities should offer themselves for the take over. He also said he would not pick his successor because people should be given the right to choose their next leader.

"I will never groom a successor. We will never do that. We will never make that mistake," the veteran leader who led the 16-year guerilla that crushed the Ian Smith regime has said.

U.S., British and other European diplomats are riled American by any mention of extending President Mugabe’s term. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and other civic activists claim economic conditions would worsen.

“What is likely to happen is that if Mugabe's term is extended, many donors, even those funding humanitarian work, will just give up on Zimbabwe and pull out their money," one unnamed diplomat was quoted saying, in the Standard, a privately-owned weekly newspaper here.

"His latest ploy to extend his term to 2010 must be rejected by all patriotic Zimbabweans who want a new Zimbabwe of freedom, prosperity and democracy," adds Nelson Chamisa, the spokesperson for the Morgan Tsvangirai’s camp of the now-divided MDC.

Other political analysts say Mugabe is a master in the game of politics and his continued stay is motivated by the need to ensure continuity of the liberation movement. He cherishes having reclaimed fertile land from the minority white regime, for the people.

"He does not want to see Zanu PF in shambles after his departure, neither does he want to see MDC takeover the country. Mugabe does not want the ideals of the revolution, Pan Africanist ideals and the legacy of people like Nkrumah to be sold in return for the coins from IMF and its sister institution, the World Bank," says a top University of Zimbabwe political analyst.

Sanctions have had a devastating effect on the country's economy worsening the plight of the poor. 

Tsiko is The Black Star News' Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare.

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