Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party has refused to extend his term of office. Despite claims by Mugabe to the contrary, the Zanu-PF conference held on Dec. 15-17 failed to endorse the veteran leader's proposal to lengthen his rule from next year to 2010.
Zanu-PF Chairman John Nkomo confirmed that the conference did not pass the measure, referring it instead to the party's central committee.
Zanu-PF insiders say the stiff resistance within the party to Mugabe's proposal is the first sign of the vulnerability of the 82-year-old leader. It is the first time a party conference has failed to adopt a resolution supported by Mugabe, who will succeed in amending the Constitution only if his proposal is passed by the central committee.
"The committee is notorious for using nit-picking protocols to delay resolutions if there is resistance," said a source close to the party's leadership, who did not want to be named. "Mugabe may get it passed, but he will have to fight for it."
The party's rebuke to Mugabe exposes growing dissatisfaction with his continued rule. The two major factions within Zanu-PF vying to succeed Mugabe are led by Vice President Joice Mujuru and former speaker of the House Emmerson Mnangagwa. The bitter foes have set aside their differences to oppose Mugabe.
"Neither side wants to see Mugabe extend his rule. They want elections in 2008," said John Makumbe, political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. "They united against Mugabe at the party conference and they found that the owl has no horns. That is a Shona saying meaning that they found Mugabe to be a paper tiger. Mugabe is going to have a difficult time keeping his party in line in the coming year."
Zimbabwe's rapidly declining economy has shrunk by nearly 50 percent since the year 2000. Inflation is the world's highest at 1,100 percent, unemployment is estimated at 80 percent and life expectancy has fallen to 34 years for women, the world's lowest.
Mugabe has also alienated, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and leaders from other neighboring countries, according to reports in South Africa. An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa and Zimbabwe's collapse has slowed economic growth across southern Africa.
"It is extraordinary. Zimbabwe's opposition [the Movement for Democratic Change] has once again proved to be hugely disappointing," said Iden Wetherell, group editor of the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard newspapers. "When they should be raising the issues of the constitutional coup that is unfolding before them, they prove to be asleep at the watch."