Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has told his deeply divided Zanu-PF to prepare for elections, but his movement may never regain absolute power after losing its parliamentary majority last year, analysts said.
Mugabe had enjoyed uninterrupted rule since independence in 1980, but Zanu-PF suffered its first defeat last year in March and was forced to form a unity government with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The next election is expected in 2011 after a new constitution is drafted that is expected to guarantee a fair vote. The poll could otherwise be in 2013 if the unity government runs its full five-year term.
”Let’s begin to work for the party and to organise it strongly. Elections are not very far off,” Mugabe told Zanu-PF members at the end of a two-day congress late on the weekend.
His party resolved that its strategic aim would be ”the checking, containment and ultimate defeat of the West’s neo-colonial regime change agenda by securing a decisive and uncontested victory in the next harmonised elections”.
Political analysts said that would be difficult as Zanu-PF is increasingly being weakened by in-fighting over who will succeed Mugabe when he steps down, with no candidate seeming strong enough to challenge Tsvangirai other than Mugabe.
Tsvangirai defeated the 85-year-old Mugabe in last year’s presidential vote but not by enough to avoid a second round, which the veteran leader went on to win in a one-man contest after a violent campaign that forced Tsvangirai to quit the race.
Mugabe may find it harder to secure the endorsement of his party to contest the next presidential election, when he will be nearly 90 years and in the twilight of a political career spanning more than five decades.
Tensions were running high at the congress amid charges from members that the party leadership was imposing weak candidates into the policy-making central committee.
”Zanu-PF has shown that it is not ready for leadership renewal and that only makes it weaker and more divided,” said John Makumbe, a political commentator and Mugabe critic.
”They can forget about regaining lost ground and they will get a big hiding from the MDC at the next election.”
Zanu-PF is deeply divided into two political factions, one led by retired army general Solomon Mujuru, husband to vice-president Joice Mujuru, and another by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The divisions have festered over the years but Mujuru’s camp has gained the upper hand after Joice Mujuru (54) was retained as one of Mugabe’s two deputies and makes her frontrunner, for now, to take over from the ageing leader when he steps down.
The succession issue has torn Zanu-PF along ethnic lines, with the group led by Mnangagwa — long touted by local media as heir-apparent to Mugabe — accusing Mujuru’s faction of wanting to preserve the party presidency for another member of Mugabe’s Zezuru ethnic group.
”Mugabe is the cog in Zanu-PF’s wheel, albeit punctured, but ethnic fault lines are widening and his departure from the political scene will see the party totally disintegrate,” Makumbe told Reuters.
But the veteran leader, who on Friday said factional fighting was ”eating up” Zanu-PF and emboldening opponents in the MDC, remains publicly resolute and has vowed to defeat what he said were machinations by the West to remove him from power.
Mugabe has faced sanctions from the European Union and United States for democratic failings and human rights abuses but he says this is only cover for punishment against his seizures of white-owned farms to resettle black Zimbabweans.
”The democratic favour and spirit of candour has found full expression. We all feel renewed … and we go back much stronger, a better focused party and raring to go,” Mugabe said. — Reuters