Dumisani Muleya/ Ray Matikinye
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s attempt to extend his term of office to 2010 under the pretext of harmonising elections and saving money h
as triggered an uproar in his party and outside, setting the stage for an explosive Zanu PF conference today.
Inside sources said although Mugabe had managed to railroad the contentious proposal through party structures, Zanu PF’s main factions are still unhappy with the move as they fear it is designed to ensure Mugabe remains in office for life.
Mugabe claims he cannot go now and leave his party in a shambles.
Sources said there was dissent over the issue during a heated Zanu PF politburo meeting on Wednesday. Zanu PF members were worried about endorsing a proposal whose details are unknown.
However, the central committee, the party’s key decision-making body, endorsed the proposition yesterday amid resistance.
The proposal, which will see Mugabe’s term extended from 2008 to 2010, is now set to be adopted as part of resolutions of the Zanu PF conference which officially opens today in Goromonzi.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s factions are also opposed to the idea of extending the president’s term. They said they would counter the bid when it comes to parliament in the new year.
Secretary-general for the Arthur Mutambara-led MDC faction, Professor Welshman Ncube, said his group would fight the proposal in parliament. “The problem is that this so-called harmonisation of elections will give us an unelected and illegitimate president for an extra two years. Coming as it does against a background of the disputed 2002 presidential election, it will only help to compound this regime’s illegitimacy and worsen the economic crisis,” he said.
“Besides that, this unilateral idea is also a coup against the constitution. Naturally, we will oppose it in parliament. What we need to recover from this situation is a constitutional reform process which will address these issues holistically.”
Spokesman for Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC group, Nelson Chamisa, said Zanu PF’s gathering today was a “conference of evil ideas” with “satanic motives”.
Diplomats also said they were opposed to the idea, which seemed to mark the beginning of a process to sort out Mugabe’s entangled succession and the concomitant power struggle. The process is also said to be calculated to sideline Vice-President Joice Mujuru from succeeding Mugabe. Sources said yesterday the Americans and European Union member states were alarmed by Mugabe’s attempt to hang on to power, but were open to any proposal that would lead to a resolution of the current crisis.
“We are watching the situation closely, but I must say this is an alarming proposal. The devil lies in the detail,” a diplomat said.
Civil society organisations also said they did not want Mugabe’s plan.
Sources yesterday said the plan was to hold the polls in 2010 under a new dispensation which would take the country back to the pre-1987 era.
Before 1987, Zimbabwe had a titular president who was head of state and an executive prime minister who was head of government. Mugabe was elected president by parliament in 1987 until 1990 when he won the first presidential poll.
Although Mugabe has of late been opposing a return the Westminster-style premiership, sources said he was now convinced it would guarantee him a better exit strategy. It would also ensure his continued immunity from possible prosecution for accusations of human rights violations.
This means that the constitution will be changed so Mugabe becomes a ceremonial president and there will be a prime minister who will be appointed by the majority party in parliament, Zanu PF in this case.
The president will be elected by parliament. The prime minister, according to sources, will appoint a government of national unity in a bid to end the current political impasse and economic problems.
It is hoped the international community will support the government of national unity to help the country to recover from extended years of political instability and economic recession.
After this the parliamentary poll will then be held simultaneously with the election of the president by parliament in 2010 for a period of five years. The Senate will be abolished and a new constitution introduced.
According to Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa’s memo to Zanu PF in May last year, the senate, which appears to be part of the mechanisms to manage Mugabe’s succession, will only last from 2005 to 2010.
Eight out of 10 Zanu PF provinces have adopted the controversial proposal. Harare and Mashonaland East provinces — strongholds for retired General Solomon Mujuru’s faction — had not yet embraced the issue by yesterday.
Mashonalad East chairman Ray Kaukonde, a Mujuru faction stalwart, angrily refused to explain why his province had not supported the idea to postpone the presidential election to 2010 when the parliamentary poll is due.
“I don’t discuss my party’s confidential matters in the press. What has that got to do with you?” he said before hanging up the phone. Asked later about the same issue, he said in an agitated tone: “I said I don’t talk about confidential issues of my party in the press, full stop!”
Zanu PF Harare provincial chairman Amos Midzi said he could not talk about the issue as well. “I’m in a central committee meeting, I can’t speak to you.”
The other eight provinces which have endorsed the proposal supported the Zanu PF camp led by politburo member Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2004 in the run-up to the party congress before Mugabe intervened on Joice Mujuru’s behalf.
Mujuru and Mnangagwa were fighting for the post of vice-president. The lines of endorsement of the issue raised fears that the pattern of support for factions has not changed since 2004.