THE controversial running mates clause in the contentious Copac draft constitution was crafted to manage and stabilise the succession issue at state level in a bid to prevent potential upheavals in the event the president is incapacitated, resigns or dies, it has emerged.
Report by Faith Zaba
Fears are growing that Zanu PF’s succession crisis will spill over to national politics when President Robert Mugabe finally exits the political stage through whatever means.
Senior Zanu PF officials say even if Mugabe wins the next election, he might not finish his new term due to old age and ill-health. The Zanu PF amendments concerning presidential succession on the Copac draft are predicated on these fears.
According to the Copac draft, taken to the Second All-Stakeholders Conference last week, presidential candidates are required to nominate two running mates or supporting candidates to contest elections on the same party ticket.
The clause states if the president resigns, is removed from office or dies, the first running mate, who will be vice-president, assumes office until the expiry of the former president’s term. The second running mate or second vice-president becomes the only one.
Copac insiders, who attended the Nyanga meeting in July at which the deeply contentious clause was inserted, told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the management committee –– comprising Zanu PF’s Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche; MDC-T’s Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma; and MDC’s Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Moses Mzila Ndlovu –– looked at two other options before settling on running mates.
They considered the provision in the constitution before Amendment No 18, which stated that if the president dies, resigns or is removed from office, the last acting vice-president would act as president for three months before calling for fresh elections.
This, the insiders said, was shot down after negotiators concurred it would be destabilising and costly as new elections would have to be held if a president retires, is removed or dies even within six months to a year after taking office.
The other option was to leave the clause in the current constitution outside the transitory Global Political Agreement, which states that if the office of the president falls vacant, parliament sits as an electoral college and elects to office for the remainder of the running tenure a person from the party holding the presidency with a two-thirds majority.
“The running mates clause is actually designed to deal with succession at state level, not at party level,” a senior Zanu PF official said. “We were looking at how to address the situation if a vacancy occurs at the presidential level. We had the option of national elections or parliament getting involved. That is how the running mates issue came about.”
However, other Zanu PF officials say it was also meant to resolve the Mugabe succession conundrum at party level as that would have forced him to anoint a successor by choosing the first running mate.
It was also going to force the MDC-T to deal with its own succession issues as Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would have been put in a situation to select his own running mates.
Negotiators say the running mates issue is critical to allow for continuity and manage the succession issue, which has become a big problem, not just in Zimbabwe but Africa in general.
“When we came up with this clause we did it with the country’s best interests at heart. We wanted to ensure that there is a smooth succession and transition because the other options would have meant electing the successor, be it in parliament or through fresh elections,” the Zanu PF official said.
“Out of the three options, the running mates issue ranked first. We thought the election route would not be a good idea; why risk your party’s victory or your hold on the presidency by going for new elections?”
The insiders also say they settled for the running mates system as it was cheaper, guaranteed legitimacy of the successor as he/she would have been elected through the party ticket and would ensure a smooth transfer of power like in Malawi and Ghana recently.
In Malawi, then vice-president Joyce Banda took over as president after the death of Bingu wa Mutharika, while in Ghana vice-president John Dramani Mahama replaced president John Atta-Mills after his death.
The running mates system is more common in the United States. After the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963, for instance, vice-president Lyndon B Johnson took over, while Gerald Ford replaced Richard Nixon after Watergate in 1974..
However, in Zimbabwe the running mates issue has reportedly angered Mugabe, almost confirming his unspoken but well-known ambition to be president for life.
Zanu PF insiders say the party’s rival factions led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa are fighting behind the scenes over the issue.
The Mnangagwa faction apparently thinks the clause is designed to help Mujuru to become successor, while there is suspicion it is cunningly calculated to block Mujuru as Mugabe would not choose someone from his ethnic group and region as his first running mate and ultimately successor without risking splitting the party.