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  • Constitutional Amendment 18 of 2007 - Index of articles, opinion and anaylsis

  • Mugabe to cut powers
    Clemence Manyukwe, Financial Gazette
    September 13, 2007

    Visit the special index of articles, analysis and opinion on Constitutional Amendment 18

    PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has agreed to shed some of his sweeping powers in talks between his party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), but at the same time he has begun consolidating his hold on ZANU PF, ahead of a special congress where he will seek to crush factions vying to block his candidacy.

    The ruling party's supreme decision-making body - the Politburo - last week decided to call an extraordinary congress in place of a conference that had been pencilled for December.

    ZANU PF insiders said the congress will give President Mugabe, who had earlier hinted at retiring at the expiry of his current term only to change his mind after the race to succeed him split the ruling party right through the middle, a chance to finally get official endorsement as ZANU PF's presidential candidate.

    But the decision also shows that some opposition to his bid remains, despite public endorsements he has received from the leaders of the Women's League and the Youth League plus war veterans, chiefs and ZANU PF mayors.

    The extraordinary congress has been called to choose the party's presidential candidate for elections next year, Vice President Joice Mujuru was quoted as saying this week.

    According to ZANU PF sources, President Mugabe's supporters are now stepping up a campaign for Mujuru's ouster.

    Mujuru and Rural Housing Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa are linked to factions jockeying to succeed the ageing Zimbabwean leader, in power since the country's independence from Britain in 1980.

    Recent public comments made by senior members of the ZANU PF Women's League, regarded as critical of Mujuru, are part of a wider strategy to sideline her ahead of congress, the sources said.

    But insiders say although there are dissenting voices in the ruling party, there is little chance President Mugabe will face an open challenge at congress.

    Unlike the conference, which had been planned earlier, congress draws huge crowds, particularly from the boisterous war veterans and the party's youth and women's leagues, where President Mugabe enjoys strong support.

    "There is resistance, but unless something extraordinary happens, he will be nominated," a Politburo member said yesterday.

    President Mugabe has, since the Goromonzi conference last December, shown increasing unease with the Mujuru faction, which he backed against Mnangagwa at the 2004 congress.

    In an interview with state television to mark his birthday in February, the President criticised what he said was "an insidious dimension (in ZANU PF) where ambitious leaders have been cutting deals with the British and Americans", and voiced his opposition to involvement by his top lieutenants in diamonds.

    This was widely seen as a dig at retired army general Solomon Mujuru, the only one of his top officials with known interests in diamonds. The retired general is Vice-President Mujuru's husband.

    And at the weekend, Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru, who said the congress would need to "secure its leader", referred to a "British-run faction, which has been seeking to worm itself to influence. It is a faction, which is greedy, anti-nation, a bit daft, without structures, but well heeled and quite white at its core."

    President Mugabe's ZANU PF supporters, Manheru suggested, were moving "relentlessly to pare down the power claims of this faction."

    Supporters of President Mugabe have cast him as the remaining authentic revolutionary in the ruling party. Apart from fighting other factions, radical ZANU PF supporters have sniped at any hints at the need for reform, especially after comments in South Africa by Simba Makoni the former finance minister, who merely acknowledged that there was an economic crisis in the country.

    Over recent months, the women's and youth leagues, chiefs and war veterans have endorsed the President for the harmonised 2008 elections.

    Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa yesterday tabled the 18th amendment, but debate on it will only begin on Tuesday.

    The Bill will help President Mugabe manage his succession, but it is the unexpected call for a special congress that reflects the continuing scheming within ZANU PF over his future.

    Jabulani Sibanda, sacked as war veterans leader in a row some linked to the succession battle, is suddenly back in favour, leading a march in President Mugabe's support two weeks ago.

    Sibanda has been linked to the Mnangagwa camp, although he has denied this in previous comments to The Financial Gazette.

    However, signs that support among war veterans for President Mugabe, though strong, is not unanimous, came last week when there were clashes in Masvingo between groups supporting rival factions of the party.

    The Politburo meeting also discussed and approved changes to the original wording of the Constitutional Amendment No.18 Bill, changes that will limit President Mugabe's powers, especially his influence over Parliament.

    The changes were agreed after ZANU PF tabled the Amendment as an agenda item in the talks, spearheaded by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

    A 210-member House of Assembly will be constituted entirely by elected members, unlike the previous plan where the President could appoint 10 members.

    The President would still choose governors, three members from interest groups, and have influence over the appointment of chiefs to an expanded 93-member Senate. But the lower house would have the power of veto on the upper chamber, again diluting the influence of his appointees.

    The constitutional changes would also see the Delimitation Commission being abolished, and its work taken over by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

    "We will be going back to the 20 percent (constituency population) variance factor, from the current 25 percent, which created huge urban constituencies and small rural constituencies," a source said.

    This arrangement had the effect of creating more rural constituencies than urban seats. Since 2000, the Delimitation Commission has controversially increased seats in rural areas, a ZANU PF stronghold, while seats in the urban areas, where the MDC draws most of its support, were gradually reduced.

    Sources said the ruling party was also debating excluding Registrar General (R-G) Tobaiwa Mudede from all involvement in elections. The opposition sees the R-G as a ZANU PF appointee.

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