HARARE – Battle lines have been drawn in President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF after the party ended months of speculation and adopted guidelines for primary elections which are likely to be the fiercest fought since independence.
Young Turks, soldiers, women and an old guard expecting to be repaid for decades of loyalty to Mugabe are now in open war, with the next two months set to prove decisive for the 89-year-old Zanu PF leader.
Campaigning for primary elections, which are closely linked to the succession saga ripping the party apart, is now in full throttle with signs that divisions are set to widen further ahead of crucial polls which could be Mugabe’s last.
Mugabe’s chances of reversing a March 2008 poll defeat to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai hinge on his ability to rally his warring troops.
Insiders and analysts say the level of infighting could make this a “mission impossible”.
Perhaps the clearest sign that it is now war was the attack on Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa by Zanu PF’s secretary for Administration Didymus Mutasa.
“We all agreed unanimously. Now we are surprised that there are some people like Mnangagwa who are now leading another faction claiming that they want to take over the party. Anyone who objects the legitimacy of Mai Mujuru as the vice president of the party, then that person does not belong to Zanu PF,” Mutasa was quoted as saying at the weekend.
Analysts say Mugabe’s party is trapped between a rock and hard place after it took ages for the politburo to come up with the primary elections guidelines.
Only on Saturday did the former ruling party put finality to the thorny issue of choosing candidates who will represent the party ahead of an election that could be held on June 29.
And even so some of the guidelines are yet to be finalised.
Although Zanu PF will lock horns with the MDC led by Tsvangirai in a general election, before that, the former guerrilla movement would have to avoid an implosion that could be triggered by factional fights during primary elections, insiders and analysts say.
In a show of loyalty to military men, the politburo threw retired army major general Mike Nyambuya back into the fray and will be in charge of the turbulent Manicaland Province as the provincial deputy chairperson ahead of the polls.
Several security officials who include police spokesperson Oliver Mandipaka are also eyeing a parliamentary seat — unnerving incumbents.
Mutasa yesterday told the Daily News that even if primary elections are divisive they are necessary.
“They (primary elections) are necessary. We are a big organisation how can we go to elections without primary elections first,” said Mutasa.
Mutasa, who is on record defending the military involvement in the country’s politics, yesterday dismissed the so-called young Turks.
“We are Zimbabwe and not Turkey. Those who call themselves young Turks should go there. Here we follow rules, and we are saying people should not be imposed and we will never allow that,” he said.
Indications are that Zanu PF’s primary polls are premised on two main factions — one led by Mnangagwa and the other by Vice President Joice Mujuru, both of whom have for years been touted as possible successors to 89-year-old Mugabe.
Rugare Gumbo, Zanu PF spokesperson, yesterday told the Daily News that five percent of the guidelines for elections are yet to be completed.
“We cannot give you the guidelines because we are not yet through,” said Gumbo.
But many inside the party fear the impending primaries may be a mere window dressing exercise as nomination tickets for certain slots may already have been handed to certain individuals.
Mutasa is however, adamant that the polls will be democratic saying proper procedures will be followed when candidates are selected.
However, the fact that primary elections guidelines are not yet fully out has not stopped the jostling in the party with Mugabe himself having confirmed the scourge of infighting and imposition of candidates.
In recent weeks, Mugabe has been at pains condemning intra-party violence and the imposition of candidates which some believe was the undoing of the former ruling party during the 2008 elections.
Party insiders said the forthcoming primaries had the potential to further drive a wedge within the faction-riddled party, with so-called young Turks pushing for a clean-out of a bunch of geriatrics in the name of “generational change”.
The attempt to get rid of the old guard could break many traditions in the party, including paying respect to elder leaders.
According to Zanu PF insiders, the so-called “young Turks” are pushing for a clinical clean-out of party “dead-wood.