December 17, 2006

Divisions emerge in Zimbabwe ruling party over extension of Mugabe term

Harare - Delegates of Zimbabwe's ruling party dispersed Sunday after their three day annual convention recommended extending President Robert Mugabe's term in office by two years to 2010, although it did not agree outright to the proposal. In an unusual step, a resolution on the electoral change was not formally adopted by the 4,000 delegates but would be referred to the party's central committee for further discussion, said Elliot Manyika, political commissar in the Zanu PF party. Manyika said the convention at a school in Goromonzi, about 30 kilometers east of Harare, "recommended" postponing the presidential poll, the state Sunday Mail newspaper reported. Hinting there was some unease over the move, he said it was still open to debate and would eventually need approval in a constitutional amendment passed by the ruling party-dominated Parliament in Harare. Mugabe, speaking to reporters at the end of the convention, said the party meeting had reached "consensus" on proposals to hold the next presidential elections in 2010, when parliamentary elections are scheduled. That would mean skipping a presidential race now scheduled for 2008.

Mugabe said the "harmonization" of elections was a practical step that would save on the costs of polling and ease the handling of election administration in a nation of nearly 5 million registered voters. The extension was seen, however, as a bid to give 82-year-old Mugabe more time to deal with rifts in the party over succession to the presidency. "The first and foremost issue is to reaffirm our loyalty to the party and its leadership," Manyika said. Mugabe himself, in an address broadcast on state television late Saturday, acknowledged divisions. "Almost in every province we hear of friction, of factions. This person belongs to so-and-so, and this one belongs to so-and-so. This is a sad state of affairs," he said. He called for "a new sense of order and discipline" as delegates dispersed to the nation's 10 provinces Sunday. Earlier in the convention, Mugabe castigated leaders in two main factions for jockeying for power. "Stop it. The time will come when vacancies exist but now there are no vacancies, none at all," he said, adding he would not step down if it meant leaving the ruling party in what he called "a shambles."

Mugabe's rivals within the ruling party have openly expressed worries there would be no meaningful economic reform as long as the ascetic, stern and authoritarian president remains at the helm. Those fears fueled opposition to the extension of his term and meant the convention could not reach outright unanimity on the issue, the independent Sunday Standard newspaper reported from Goromonzi. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said Friday it opposed the poll postponement which would make Mugabe an "illegitimate and unelected president for an extra two years." Analysts said the electoral change, as with previous sweeping media and security laws, could be railroaded through by ruling party lawmakers. Zimbabwe is facing 1,090 percent inflation, the highest in the world, and acute shortages of gasoline, hard currency, food and essential imports. (ZWNews)

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