While President Robert Mugabe and his protracted succession quandary, which is rocking the foundations of Zanu PF, is increasingly becoming a boring and hackneyed issue to write and even talk about, the risk of serious internal strife erupting which would destabilise the country remains a distinct threat, particularly given that Mugabe is 90 and is in the twilight of his long and controversial career that has already divided his party and the nation.
Zanu PF infighting has been intensifying with each passing year, forcing Mugabe and the party to finally admit that factions do exist after years of denials and claims the divisions were a media creation. Now Mugabe and just about everyone now admits the party is bedevilled by factionalism and wrangling, but also by structural problems and evils like vote-buying, intimidation and even kidnappings.
Ahead of the crucial congress in December, where all positions in the presidium are up for grabs, senior party officials have been openly clashing everywhere in public and private, an indication of a deteriorating situation and escalation of the long-running power struggle gripping the party.
A recent report by local think-tank Research and Advocacy Unit (Rau), which highlights the vagueness in the Zanu PF party and state constitutions on succession and other problems around the issue, says conflict is likely to occur when Mugabe goes whether through retirement, incapacitation or death.
Currently, a special bridging provision introduced into the Sixth Schedule of the constitution which states that “the vacancy in the office of president must be filled by a nominee of the political party which the president represented when he or she stood for election” governs how Mugabe’s successor will be chosen.
The party is expected to notify the speaker of the National Assembly of its chosen nominee within 90 days, but in the interregnum the vice-president who was last appointed acting president on account of the president’s absence or ill-disposition assumes this role.
Rau in its report, however, notes that the constitution is silent as to whom the speaker should regard as authorised person to submit the nomination on behalf of Zanu PF. It raises the possibility of different conflicting nominations.
There are also questions on whether the speaker should judge the eligibility of the nominee submitted by Zanu PF and have the duty to ascertain that the nominee is the genuine and duly appointed candidate of the party in the same manner that a nomination court does for parliamentary candidates before general elections.
The vagueness in the constitution, coupled with the serious divisions in the party, point to an explosive succession process when Mugabe leaves whichever way.
As things stand, however, the advantage going into congress lies with Vice-President Joice Mujuru as she is Mugabe’s only deputy. This may however change in December when a second vice-president is elected as she might lose the position. Of late, Mujuru has been under pressure to hang onto her position as the rival faction led by Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa seeks to oust her.
In the event that Mugabe fails to complete his term and an extra-ordinary congress is called to choose his successor, Zanu PF’s provincial co-ordinating committees (PCCs) could play a crucial role in determining the country’s next leader.
The Zanu PF constitution stipulates that any candidate receiving nomination of at least six of the 10 provinces will be directly “elected” to the presidency by the national people’s congress, although now the party is talking about using a secret ballot in December, something which might have serious implications on the outcome.
The Mujuru faction won most influential positions during provincial executive council (Pec) elections last year, but party officials in the faction led by Mnangagwa say it is a different ball game when it comes to the control of the PCCs, which are a larger body. They also say it would be a different issue when it comes to electing Mugabe’s successor.
The PCC comprise of the Pecs, members of the central committee in the province, members of the national consultative assembly in the province, the provincial executive committee of the Youth and Women’s Leagues and members of parliament from the province. It acts as the elections directorate of the province and monitors and recommends any political or development programmes and initiatives in the province.
“Most importantly, in terms of Section 32 of the party constitution, the PCCs nominate candidates for election to the Zanu PF presidium, which heads the central committee, and most non-ex officio members of the central committee itself who comprise the majority of this body. This power of nomination has in practice allowed the PCCs to effectively elect members of the presidium,” says the Rau report.
It also says one of the scenarios likely to occur is that the “Mnangagwa faction” may seek to re-invigorate, activate and enforce the electoral processes in the Zanu PF constitution. This would mean the PCCs would be afforded an opportunity to play a key role as per the constitution.
“These very processes have been altered significantly by Robert Mugabe, who moved a constitutional amendment to change the provincial electoral colleges from the 44-member provincial executive committee to the 100 plus provincial co-ordinating committees to facilitate Joice Mujuru’s ascendancy. Ironically, it is possible that Mujuru now is in the ascendancy in the former but not the latter body,” Rau says.
It, however, notes this juristic approach may fail in the face of disputes concerning the composition of the PCCs.
Considering the serious infighting, which was witnessed when Zanu PF held its disbanded district co-ordinating committees (DCCs), elections in 2012 and the 2013 primary polls before the general elections as well as provincial vote last year more intense disputes are likely to erupt without Mugabe.
The recent Youth and Women’s League elections further pointed to a Zanu PF at war with itself, and the likelihood that the fights will deepen when the stakes get higher.
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo said serious bickering and even assassinations and a split could occur in Zanu PF if the current situation continues to deteriorate, indicating the party has a history of brutal power struggles characterised by divisions, splits and even killings.
“One of the scenarios, which is very possible but highly undesirable is that there will be serious chaos and we are also likely to see some strong people, including those in the military, emerging and joining the fray. Mugabe has been the glue holding the party together, and if he were to leave, we are likely to see a heightened scramble for power by everyone and every jack who wants power,” he said.
“Of course, this will be bad for the peace and stability of the country and also for the economy, but it’s a serious possibility.”
Nkomo also said should Mujuru — if she survives the current assault on her position — assume power during the interregnum period, she may use the time to control key arms of the state, the politburo and the central committee so that they fall in line.
Rau also notes that Mujuru would have a huge advantage should she assume the reins during the 90-day period.
“Thirdly, the Mujuru (aligned) politburo may continue to arrogate to itself powers it does not have, as it has done under Mugabe, and taking advantage of Mujuru’s likely interregnum incumbency at state and possibly party level, to direct the nomination procedure,” it says.
Another scenario highlighted by Rau is that the central committee may exercises its power to amend the Zanu PF constitution and establish an expedited method of nomination.
However, both the central committee and the politburo are unlikely to speak with one voice “and the process may be susceptible to legal challenge or, worse, extra-juridical conflict”.
Nkomo said a smooth transition may also be possible and was the most desirable, but the infighting in Zanu PF was not encouraging, making that very unlikely given where the party is heading.