June 24, 2011

Army wades into Mugabe's succession

Zimbabwe's uniformed forces are said to have sunk into an internecine warfare over President Robert Mugabe's successor as ZANU-PF prepares for a life-and-death battle against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) in elections to be held soon after a referendum on the national constitution. The country is currently engaged in a constitution-making process expected to result in a national referendum in September and national elections within the same year. But the process has been stalled by bickering between ZANU-PF and the two MDC party formations in the inclusive government.

Sources within ZANU-PF indicated that a number of potential contenders in the succession race had been privately informed to rally behind the incumbent after manoeuvres by the party's director, Retired Air Marshal Henry Muchena, to neutralise party factionalism and prepare for President Mugabe's succession dismally failed. There are fears that failure by the warring factions to unite could split the party irretrievably and hand the MDC-T party victory. To pre-empt this, debate on the succession, which had once been opened under the chairmanship of Vice President John Nkomo, had been closed indefinitely. President Mugabe had indicated in a recent interview that there was a crisis in his party which did not favour debate on his succession. "Amidst problems and in a situation of crisis such as we have, you have got to take the party out of the crisis and then you can retire. We have got to ensure we are out of the crisis first," President Mugabe said.
Muchena joined the party's directorate in 2010 to lead a select team of ex-liberation war fighters that was initially meant to secure President Mugabe's re-election first then pave way for his succession. There are reports that factionalism could escalate within the former liberation war party, which has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from British colonial rule in 1980, over the succession issue. Key factions have failed to unite behind any candidate, and sources indicated that this was largely reflected by sharp differences in public policy pronouncements from contending faction members. In the last election, the party witnessed a discrepant voting pattern that suggested factionalism had undermined the vote against the party's presidential candidate.

One faction is said to have embraced a pro-reform, people-centric posture, which has been widely supported by business, while the other remained combative and insists ZANU-PF should use its liberation war credentials as a rallying point to woo voters and forestall the former opposition parties, which are now part of the inclusive government.
One source indicated that the army had sent its signal prohibiting debate on the issue when Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba indicated in a recent interview with a weekly newspaper that President Mugabe should rule for life. This was despite Nyikayaramba calling for elections, which he said would be won by the incumbent. Members of the security forces were therefore seen as likely to play a critical role in deciding or endorsing a possible successor, but only after President Mugabe personally indicates that he was now willing to leave office, a source said. The source indicated that the army and its retired members might already have decided on the "appropriate candidate" to replace President Mugabe. It was not immediately clear if this gave retired army general Solomon Mujuru room to influence a possible successor. Mujuru leads a faction of ZANU-PF that managed to secure the appointment of his wife, Joice Mujuru to the powerful position of Vice President. President Mugabe indicated when she was nominated for the position in the party that she was destined for a higher post, although it is not clear if this meant that he had anointed her an heir apparent.

The other ZANU-PF faction is led by Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangangwa said in a recent interview with a British newspaper that he harbored no presidential ambitions. It was not put to him if he had any prospective candidate for the position within his faction. "It's going to be a dark horse," a source indicated when asked about the army's choice for President Mugabe's successor.

There have been suggestions that both the army and President Mugabe would be happy with Minister of State Sydney Sekeramai as a possible successor. Seker-amai has been little tainted by several scandals that have rocked ZANU-PF ministers, and has been in President Mugabe's cabinet since independence. However, he is said to lack charisma, and is also largely associated with Mujuru's camp, a factor that could intensify fissures within the party. It had been expected by Muchena's team that the factions within ZANU-PF would recognise that it was in their best interest to close ranks and fight together to prevent embarrassment from their opponents at the poll. (The Financial Gazette)


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