By Richard Chidza
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe was forced into a nerve-wrecking 15-hour marathon politburo meeting on Friday as warring Zanu PF factions battling to replace the 88-year-old leader fiercely quarrelled over the octogenarian leader’s successor.
Mugabe, who has held on to power since the country attained independence and has in the past few years battled ill-health and advanced age, has failed to appoint a successor and reportedly wants to die in office.
So sticky is the succession issue in Zanu PF that the special politburo meeting on Friday spent time discussing the issue of running mates as the dog-eat-dog fight to replace Mugabe turned fierce.
A close in the new draft constitution stipulates that every presidential candidate would be required to nominate two persons to stand for election jointly with him or her as vice presidents — running mates — and must designate one of them as his or her candidate for first vice president and the other as the second vice president.
This is the clause that torched a storm in Friday’s meeting and reports indicate that Mugabe was cornered to an extent that he promised to discuss the issue with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at their meeting tomorrow.
The Daily News on Sunday has been told that the meeting was so fierce that at one point Mugabe almost lost control amid reports that Zanu PF heavyweights are against the idea of having the veteran leader appoint a successor through the running mate clause in the new constitution.
Already Zanu PF is divided into five factions, one led by Mugabe himself and the others by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Vice President Joice Mujuru, the military side and a group of young politicians calling themselves Generation 40.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo confirmed the stormy meeting but refused to talk about the succession issue:
“We had a long discussion on the constitution that ended around 1:30am this morning (yesterday). It was a robust debate, very candid; we have set up a committee headed by our negotiators that is looking at issues raised by members.”
“The party has not taken a position on the draft constitution but should be able to communicate a position by Wednesday next week,” Gumbo said.
However, highly-placed insiders told the Daily News on Sunday the situation was more than candid. “It was hot, rather boiling and at times inconsiderate to ageing members like the President but it had to be done although really nothing came out of it. The sticky issue of running mates took most of the time.
“The clause runs against Zanu PF’s constitution because congress decides on who leads the party while according to this new constitution, Mugabe has the chance to decide on who should succeed him,” said the insider.
He said an air of uncertainty now pervades leading factions in the former ruling party including Mujuru, who benefited from Mugabe’s move to disband District Coordinating Committees (DCCs) after being trounced by Mnangagwa.
“It is a pear-shaped situation in which nobody knows who will benefit from a Mugabe nomination of running mates so those who thought they had grassroots in the bag (Mnangagwa) are now demanding that congress should be allowed to choose the running mate.”
“Mnangagwa feels his chances are safer that way, while Mujuru seems to have little trust that Mugabe will nominate her. Mugabe is a wily old fox who could spring a surprise,” the source said. Zanu PF disbanded the DCCs to stop Mnangagwa’s influence as the succession battle rages on.
The disbandment of DCCs has met with dogged resistance particularly from Midlands Province where Mnangagwa comes from. Mnangagwa, a close ally of the 88-year-old leader, has been tipped as Mugabe’s heir apparent but the “running mates” clause in the constitution might put him at a disadvantage because of his position in the party.
The matter was put on hold as the “running mates” clause in the new draft constitution took centre stage. The meeting ran into the early hours of yesterday as factions jostled to impose their authority on the contents of the draft constitution.
But Gumbo tried to circumvent the issue when asked and could neither deny nor confirm if Mugabe would discuss the issue with Tsvangirai.
“No, those are some people who want to complicate matters. I cannot disclose the finer details of our discussions. Suffice to say our discussions were amicable, there was nothing untoward. If anyone gives information saying Zanu PF has taken a position they are taking you up the garden path,” Gumbo said.
Mugabe’s leadership succession battle has now become one of the biggest political questions in Zimbabwe, intertwined as it is with the fate of Zanu PF and the nation. Daily News
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