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Zimbabwe Party Conference May Extend Mugabe's Rule

Zimbabwe’s ruling party opens a three-day conference today that is looking to prolong the term of President Robert Mugabe until the year 2010. ZANU-PF officials attending the conference are proposing to delay the 2008 presidential vote to coincide with 2010 parliamentary elections. Mugabe, who is 82 years old, told visiting foreign journalists this week he still has plans to retire, but not when his term expires in March of 2008. Critics say the party’s move could spark a long, drawn-out internal battle within ZANU to find a successor. But party loyalists deny the dissension. Edisson Zvobgo is Secretary for Legal Affairs in Masingo province and a prospective ZANU-PF candidate for Parliament, if the vote actually takes place in 2010. He says the term extension is a cost effective, belt-tightening move as the country struggles to recover economically.

“These were the resolutions which were agreed upon by a majority of provinces to synchronize the parliamentary elections with the presidential in order to save money and not be too hard on the fiscus,” he said

Zvobgo, whose family helped form ZANU-PF in 1963, disagrees with the view that festering divisions within the party have caused President Mugabe to extend his rule until a suitable successor can be found.

“I’m not aware of any official candidates at this stage, but in any democratic process, candidates will appear, and they will campaign. Whether they as individuals need more time I really wouldn’t know,” he said.

Robert Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s only president since the country gained independence in 1980. In recent years he has presided over soaring inflation and unemployment rates and one of the sharpest economic declines in the world. Edisson Zvobgo says he does not believe the economic woes will discourage candidates from seeking the Presidency.

“I don’t think the economic situation would deter anybody who believes that they should serve their country. Saving money clearly is the big one, and you have alluded to the economic challenges the country is facing. And in times of economic challenges, you must tighten your belt and rationalize whenever you can,” he said.

If the ZANU-PF annual conference adopts the bid to synchronize elections, Zvobgo acknowledges that President Mugabe will be buying time in office. But he also says that extending the presidential campaign period could boost campaigning prospects for opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) candidates.

“Speaking purely speculatively, if there was any delay in presidential elections, I suppose that it would be in their (MDC’s) favor, that it would be very good for them, giving them more time to campaign and put their house in order, and they should seize the opportunity with both hands,” he said.

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