by Gift Phiri
HARARE – The succession clause contained in Zimbabwe’s new Constitution which says the last acting president will temporarily lead the country in the event of an incumbent leader dying or being incapacitated in office is apparently kindling the post-congress Zanu PF’s brutal wars.
Zanu PF insiders and analysts who spoke to the Daily News at the weekend said the clause had made the acting presidency a very important position in ruling party circles, and partly explained the alleged intense jostling for power between vice presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko each time the president was out of the country.
“The person who is acting president at the time a vacancy arises is the one who takes over up to 90 days as acting president,” the contentious constitutional provision says, adding “Then within that period, the political party which was represented by the exiting president will sit down and select a successor”.
However, this clause will fall away in 2023 when instead of having two equal deputy presidents, there will be one vice president who will be mandated to complete the president’s term if the president dies, resigns, is incapacitated or is removed from office.
A post-congress Zanu PF bigwig said the succession clause was probably the reason why the Mnangagwa faction had been unhappy and perturbed over the past few weeks, after Mugabe appointed Mphoko to act as president for the second consecutive time when the nonagenarian went on his annual vacation last month.
Then, sources told the Daily News that Mnangagwa had allegedly sought private audience with Mugabe in Dubai, where the First Family is holidaying, to both affirm his loyalty to the president and to ensure that he was in the good books of the increasingly-frail nonagenarian.
Soon after, Mnangagwa returned home to serve as acting president for the remaining two weeks of Mugabe’s holiday.
“While the drafters of the Constitution probably hoped to ensure stability in the country in the event of natural wastage of the president when they inserted this clause, the provision is stoking the flames of factionalism in both the party and the government.
“It is a fact that the president, for all the unbridled ambition that we are witnessing, stands as a force of unity and continuity in the party, and by extension in the country.
“Because the new Constitution says the last acting president will take over for 90 days, the major factions now think that acting as president is vital given the president’s advanced age,” the Zanu PF official who spoke to the Daily News said.
Senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, said the succession provision in the Sixth Schedule of the new Constitution had had the net effect of disrupting “orderly succession”.
He said Section 101 of the new Constitution, which deals with presidential succession and which would only be in force in 2023, was a much better provision when it came to orderly succession.
This section says, “If the president dies, resigns or is removed from office, the first vice president assumes office as president until the expiry of the former president’s term of office; the second vice president assumes office as first vice president until the expiry of the former president’s term of office; and upon assuming office as president, the former first vice president must appoint a qualified person to be second vice president until the expiry of the former president’s term of office”.
It further states that if the first vice president dies, resigns or is removed from office, “the second vice president assumes office as first vice president until the expiry of the former first vice president’s term of office; and the president must without delay appoint a qualified person to be second vice president until the expiry of the former first vice president’s term of office”.
Mavhinga said: “It is likely that the drafters of the Sixth Schedule on presidential succession had already anticipated problems with Mugabe’s succession and inserted a chaos-brewing and confusing provision that effectively shatters the chances of a vice president’s chances of becoming president”.
He added that the current clause had introduced “great uncertainty” in the succession debate and also presented opportunities for factional elements to “manipulate party elections”.
Spokesperson for the main opposition MDC, Obert Gutu, also said an ambitious and wily acting president could manipulate the provision to enable him to be president, at least for 90 days, after the demise of the incumbent.
Spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Jacob Mafume, agreed that the most important post now was that of acting president.
“As the biological clock for the presidency ticks more loudly as each day passes, it is not lost on the ever-ambitious Zanu PF pretenders that he who sits on the throne when the grim reaper visits, naturally or artificially, will have the last laugh.
“It is all too apparent that there is a deadly fight for that post.
“The first war was to establish a ranking for the vice presidency and when that was torpedoed, what’s left is to be the one acting.
“The constitutional changes have become a poisoned chalice for the president and his party. The fights will intensify … That’s why as PDP we have called for transitional government as a substitute for the reality TV snakes and ladders the country leadership is playing with.
“They are playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun, metaphorically speaking, and unfortunately in reality as well.
“And for the first time, the gun is aimed at the presidency itself,” Mafume said.-Dailynews