Mugabe succession: A serious risk to Zim’s national stability

It might well be said that the title of this article is way off the mark. It might be said, rather than forecast a possibility, that the succession race is messy and bloody is already a living fact.

That assessment would probably not be inaccurate.

After all, it is now more than probable that the death of Retired General Solomon Mujuru on that mid-August night of 2011 was not a mere accident. Rather, it was the darkest part yet of the dirty script of succession politics.

The general was the major source of the political capital that propelled his wife, Joice Mujuru’s leadership ambitions. His grim departure opened the gap that was necessary to thwart Mujuru’s leadership bid. The final chapter of her Zanu PF career was written at the party congress in December 2014.

But like so many assessments of this type, it is one that enjoys the unrivalled benefit of hindsight. It is always easier to put the pieces together after the event.

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What commands interest in this article is a possible prognosis of what might happen should a vacancy arise in the Office of the President, in light of provisions in the national and Zanu PF constitutions for the selection of leaders.

There are at least three circumstances that would trigger a vacancy in the presidency: death, resignation or incapacitation of the incumbent.

There is a fourth circumstance, where the president is removed from office by parliament. However, this is highly unlikely to ever happen given that Zanu PF enjoys unrivalled domination in parliament.

In the circumstances, it is fair to say that President Robert Mugabe will only leave on his own terms, unless of course, the grim reaper chooses to intervene earlier.

But what happens in the circumstances of death, resignation or incapacitation? What is the constitutional position? What are the provisions for succession to the presidency?

The constitutional position is that the party represented by the departing president will have the power to select a successor. In terms of s. 14(5) of the Sixth Schedule of the state constitution, the political party that was represented by the president at his election selects the successor. This means under the current circumstances, Zanu PF will have the power to select the successor to Mugabe.

There will be no national election, like what happened in Zambia earlier this year when an election was held to choose the late President Michael Sata’s successor. There will be no automatic succession by the Vice-President, as happened in Malawi a few years ago when President Bingu Wa Mutharika died in office. If there is an election, it will only be restricted to the party.

The problem is that the actual procedure of selecting the successor is left entirely in the hands of the party in power, in this case, Zanu PF. The party constitution itself does not prescribe the procedure of selection of a successor.

In the absence of constitutional procedures, we must look to provisions in the Zanu PF constitution for leadership selection.

From what I gather, new provisions introduced at congress are that the president of the party is elected nationally by party members and candidates must be nominated by at least two provinces (Article 35). This is down from the minimum requirement of nominations by six provinces in the old provision. This reduction of minimum requirements for nomination opens the way for multiple candidates.

Further, it is now clear that elections are conducted by secret ballot. This, on the face of it, guarantees vote secrecy and gives confidence to other contenders. It is also in line with the national constitution which guarantees the right to vote in secrecy.

In addition, there is a new elections commission, consisting of nine members appointed by the president. This elections commission is responsible for conducting elections and for compiling the voters’ registers. It is like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) at national level.

These are important provisions which indicate why Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rivals think they still have a chance despite the commonly held perception that he is one step away from the presidency after overcoming Mujuru’s challenge. The latest hint was given by Information Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo in the recent BBC interview which would not have pleased Mnangagwa’s allies.

In the interview, Moyo was keen to lay emphasis on the point that current favourite Mnangagwa is not guaranteed to succeed Mugabe. He was merely an appointee and had not been elected, said Moyo, downplaying Mnangagwa’s chances. Mnangagwa’s allies must help him secure election in the provinces, said Moyo in a rather tetchy Twitter response to a newspaper report that suggested that Mnangagwa’s allies were after him following his BBC interview. It seems he has a low opinion of Mnangagwa’s electability.

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The implication of the new Zanu PF provisions is that whoever controls the elections commission will be in a position of advantage. After all, this is the body that will control who is eligible to vote in party elections. It occupies the very important “Tobaiwa Mudede role” within the context of Zanu PF politics.

Mudede has always been accused of being one of the chief architects of Zanu PF’s elections rigging system, what with the control and manipulation of the voters’ roll. Mudede failed and refused to produce the voters’ roll in the 2013 general elections. He remained adamant, despite court orders, confirming suspicions that the voters’ roll had been severely compromised.

It is not clear whether Mugabe has already appointed the Zanu PF elections commission. A serious problem would obviously arise if he dies without appointing one. For otherwise, who would appoint it to conduct elections for the selection of the new leader? The fact of the matter is that the Zanu PF succession provisions and procedures are rather murky and unclear at present, posing a serious risk to national stability.

Much simpler would have been a situation in which Zanu PF had a clear, certain and smooth succession system. As it is, both national and party succession procedures are in murky territory. There is nothing remotely predictable about what’s going to happen and that does not augur well for stability.

This means the jostling and uncertainty will persist until the very end. This is why Moyo could afford to be almost contemptuous in his characterisation of Mnangagwa’s circumstances and chances of succession. There was an implicit suggestion there that his chances were as good as anyone else’s.

A key question in all this is who is eligible to vote in the leadership contest? Is it all Zanu PF members generally or is it simply the delegates at an extraordinary Congress? And if it is all party members, how will the election process be conducted? This could mean a mini-presidential election in which only Zanu PF members will be eligible to vote. It could be a logistical nightmare.

I understand one group thinks the selection process should be restricted to Congress delegates only, while another believes it should be open to all party members. That there are these differences in procedure does not help the cause of stability in the country. It means there could well be serious differences and chaos.

All this suggests a serious failure on the part of the Zanu PF leadership in managing the succession process.

Magaisa is a lawyer and academic based at the University of Kent, UK. He is also former adviser to ex-prime minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai.

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