Mugabe's poor health behind drive by Zanu-PF for elections, says MDC

Thu, Feb 2, 2012, 00:00

THE ADVANCED years of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s and his frail health are behind his Zanu-PF party’s persistent calls for fresh elections this year, his coalition government partner Morgan Tsvangirai has said.

In a recent interview, Mr Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, said question marks over the health of Mr Mugabe (87) were fuelling an internal power struggle among factions in Zanu-PF keen to succeed him. “One can see they are running out of time on their candidate,” Mr Tsvangirai told AFP news agency.

“President Mugabe’s health is definitely a serious worry to Zanu- PF. They are worried about the level of divisions that are in the party, that there’s no cohesion in that party. They are too much concerned about retention of power and not about what they would do for the people of Zimbabwe.”

While Zanu-PF publicly maintains that the party is united, the suspicious death last August of retired army general Solomon Mujuru – seen as the leader of one of two factions in Zanu-PF – in a fire at his farmhouse has fuelled speculation to the contrary.

Mr Mujuru’s wife, Zimbabwean deputy prime minister Joyce Mujuru, and his supporters say the incident has all the hallmarks of the type of assassination the former liberation movement would carry out.

Questions abound as to why Mr Mujuru (66), a decorated bush fighter from Zimbabwe’s war of independence, was unable to escape the blaze from his ground-floor bedroom when there were numerous large windows for him to use.

The inquest into his death is under way. A forensic expert said this week that investigators could not find out what caused the fire.

One of Mr Mujuru’s guards, Clement Runhare, told the inquest that the general was accompanied home on the night of his death by an unidentified companion, and that two hours before the fire broke out, he heard gunshots.

Analysts say senior Zanu-PF officials want to end the powersharing arrangement as soon as possible so the party can reinstall Mr Mugabe as the country’s sole leader following a successful election. He can then appoint a successor while still in power, thus ending the factionalism damaging the party.

For this to be achieved, time is of the essence. Mr Mugabe has been seeing medical specialists in Malaysia on a near-monthly basis over the past year. Party officials have said he is travelling for check-ups connected to a recent cataract operation, but medical specialists in South Africa have questioned the need to travel to Malaysia for this relatively minor procedure.

The MDC is not keen on elections this year, saying 2013 is a more realistic date. The party insists a new constitution and electoral reforms need to be adopted first to ensure free and fair elections can take place.

Zanu-PF and the MDC have been involved in a powersharing arrangement since February 2009 devised by the Southern African Development Community to overcome the disputed 2008 general elections.

Widespread violence, allegedly sponsored by Zanu-PF-backed youth militias, marred the March 2008 poll. Hundreds of MDC supporters were murdered, thousands of rural people were internally displaced and the country was brought to its knees economically.

Mr Tsvangirai, who won the first round of the presidential election, pulled out of the June 27th head-to-head with Mr Mugabe in a bid to stop the carnage.

Mr Mugabe subsequently declared himself the election winner, but the result was not accepted by the development community, the MDC or the international community. The regional body proceeded to negotiate a powersharing arrangement as a compromise.

While powersharing has brought a level of economic stability to Zimbabwe, the political parties that signed up to the deal have been unable to work together to implement the reforms outlined in the South African Development Community-backed global political agreement.

Since late 2010, Zanu-PF has made persistent calls for new elections, with the party saying the transitional government is close to collapse. There are also signs it is gearing up to contest the poll.

It was reported last week that Zanu-PF was behind a serious of illegal urban land invasions taking place in the capital Harare, an MDC stronghold for the past 10 years, that are designed to weaken the latter’s support base.

Zanu-PF party supporters have been illegally building on plots of land set aside for a new suburb in Harare north. A Zanu-PF membership card allows one to benefit from the “housing co-operatives” controlled by senior party officials overseeing the plot allocations.

Zanu-PF spokesman George Charamba also indicated last week that Mr Mugabe will likely unilaterally extend the terms of office of his key allies in the army, police, air force and prison services when their terms end in February.