The ruling ZANU-PF party endorsed Robert Mugabe as its candidate for the 2018 presidential election at a conference just before Christmas.
We think that old age, poor health, and deteriorating levels of support within the military and the party are all obstacles to the 93-year-old Mugabe contesting the poll next year. The announcement was probably an attempt by the president, who has been visibly more frail at recent public appearances, to quell discontent over who will succeed him.The announcement was probably an attempt by the president, who has been visibly more frail at recent public appearances, to quell discontent over who will succeed him.
Over the past year, infighting over the presidential succession has led to divisions in ZANU-PF. This party has split into two factions: ‘Team Lacoste’, which supports Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over, and ‘G40’, which supports Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife. In an apparent attempt to bolster the latter’s position, the president dismissed or sidelined several supporters of the vice president last year (see B-08-03-16-ZW).
Robert Mugabe’s attempts to isolate supporters of Mnangagwa appear to have failed. Based on the limited available information, it looks more likely that Mnangagwa will succeed the president than Grace Mugabe. According to reports in the independent NewsDay newspaper, about two-thirds of ZANU-PF MPs and officials support the vice president. And South African press outlets have reported that he has the support of several key generals, as well as the chiefs of the security forces and the influential war veterans association (ZNLWVA).
Grace Mugabe, on the other hand, seems to rely on her husband for influence and does not command high levels of independent support in the party or the military. Over the past year or so, Robert Mugabe appears to have been gradually losing control of, and support from, the security forces. This has constrained him from effectively positioning Grace Mugabe as his successor.
According to rumours circulated in the international press in recent weeks, the president wanted to dismiss several key military chiefs earlier this year after they told him that they would not support Grace Mugabe to succeed him. The same reports said that he did not do so because of an agreement made with the army before the 2008 election that secured their backing during that poll. If – as seems possible – such accounts are accurate, we assess that a coup is an increasingly credible scenario in the country, particularly if he alienates key military figures (see O-07-07-16-ZW-1).
Regardless of whether the president, vice president or Grace Mugabe is leading ZANU-PF next year, the election will probably not be free and fair. In the lead-up to past elections, the government has restricted the opposition’s ability to campaign. And the military has significant influence over the electoral commission. The opposition is also divided. Both Morgan Tsvangirai, a perennial opposition candidate, and Joice Mujuru, the former vice president, have said that they will run for president. If the opposition is unable to unite behind a single candidate, a split opposition vote will make it more difficult for an opposition candidate to challenge ZANU-PF.
Image: Grace Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare in February 2016/ Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi AP/Press Association Images