Mugabe faces revolt over polls

President Robert Mugabe faces a rebellion within his bickering Zanu-PF over the politburo's controversial resolution this week to railroad the country into early elections.

The politburo decision on Wednesday has put Mugabe on a collision course with senior Zanu-PF officials, including ministers and MPs opposed to elections this year as they want to finish their five-year tenures.

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The decision has also put Mugabe on a confrontational path with Southern African Development Community and African Union leaders ahead of the extraordinary summit in Windhoek, Namibia, on May 20.

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The SADC and the AU are the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement, the basis of the Government of National Unity.

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Insiders said Mugabe bullied his politburo members into reluctantly endorsing the party’s national conference resolution last December to hold elections this year without fail.

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Mugabe, 87, plagued by health problems and old age, wants elections when he can still sustain a gruelling campaigning schedule.

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However, Zanu-PF negotiators, Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche, agreed with their counterparts from MDC-T, Tendai Biti and Elton Mangoma, and MDC-N’s Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Moses Mzila Ndlovu last week in Cape Town that there would not be elections this year. This was agreed in the presence of SA President Jacob Zuma’s envoys Mac Maharaj, Charles Nqakula and Lindiwe Zulu.

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Zulu later said “totally and categorically there would no election in Zimbabwe in 2011”. She said the politburo decision was irrelevant to the SADC process.

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A senior Zanu-PF official said several senior party officials were angry at the direction Mugabe was taking the party. One official said this had created conditions for a “revolt” in the party and “self-destruction”.

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“The president clearly stated on Wednesday that elections are coming this year without fail. He said we must uphold the decision made in Mutare last year. No one opposed him; in fact everybody supported him on this,” the official said. “What this means is that by all means necessary elections are coming this year but the danger is that we are going to divide the party. So many people don’t want to be rushed into elections and this has created new divisions and a rebellious mood in the party”.

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Mugabe has the support of a clique of die-hard state security service chiefs under the Joint Operations Command (JOC), party heavyweight Emmerson Mnangagwa and a handful of members who want to push for elections.

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Chinamasa, who initially agreed that polls would not be possible this year, was browbeaten at the politburo over his recent remarks that “it is not possible to hold elections this year.”

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Mugabe confronted him on Wednesday and demanded an explanation of his remarks. The Zanu-PF chief negotiator said “it was his personal opinion” based on inadequate preparations, logistics and funding problems. He is said to have climbed down to avoid confrontation but remains convinced elections should be delayed, a view shared by many party officials.

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Zanu-PF officials opposed to elections fear a repeat of 2008 when the party lost control of parliament for the first time in 28 years and Mugabe suffered a humiliating first-round defeat to Tsvangirai.

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Tsvangirai insisted on Thursday that there would be no elections this year without a road map because “we don’t want to slide back to 2008”. The Prime Minister has repeatedly said Mugabe cannot call for elections without consulting him under the GPA.

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Another Zanu-PF official said: “There is serious discontent in the party over this issue because some of us think this is clear political suicide. We can’t afford to go to early elec-tions divided and weak as we are.”