Zim ruling party to endorse Mugabe for 2008 vote

Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party will formally endorse President Robert Mugabe this weekend as its candidate for re-election next year, a choice that critics say will prolong the economic crisis ravaging the country.

Mugabe (83) has overcome a half-hearted attempt by some top Zanu-PF officials to force him to retire before the March 2008 poll, and looks set to tighten the grip on power he has held ever since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980.

An extraordinary Zanu-PF congress is expected to confirm Mugabe, nominated by the party in March, as its candidate in the 2008 presidential poll, to be run alongside parliamentary and local elections before the end of March.

Political analysts say Mugabe — who denies rights groups’ charges that he has rigged the last three major elections since 2000 — is almost certain to remain in office against an opposition weakened by internal strife over strategy and years of government crackdowns on its structures.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has threatened to boycott the 2008 polls if there are no guarantees of a free vote.

”It’s now generally accepted that Mugabe is here for a while, but it’s also generally accepted that the economy may be doomed by his stay,” said Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe.

”Mugabe is in a political fight with the West, and I just cannot see how Zimbabwe is going to get international aid to rescue the economy while this is going on,” he said.

Although some senior Zanu-PF officials tried quietly to stop Mugabe from extending his rule, analysts say they failed to win enough support and many are afraid to confront the veteran leader under whose patronage they have prospered.

The MDC accuses Mugabe of hanging on to power through vote-rigging and repression. It says Zimbabwe needs radical reform to end a crisis that has brought it the world’s highest inflation rate of about 8 000% and crippling shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange.

Mugabe says the economy is being sabotaged by Western opponents, led by former colonial power Britain, which want to oust him for seizing white-owned farms for landless black Zimbabweans, a programme critics say has ruined the key agriculture sector.

The Zanu-PF says it needs Mugabe’s strong leadership to assert national sovereignty and drive a black economic empowerment programme in the face of fierce Western opposition.

The party’s political commissar, Elliot Manyika, said on Zimbabwe radio this week that Zanu-PF’s backing for Mugabe, despite the deep economic crisis, was ”a matter of principle”.

”Comrade Mugabe is our tried and tested revolutionary leader, a principled man advancing the interests of our people and nation … and we are not going to have our enemies choosing leaders for us,” he said. — Reuters

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