Mugabe gives in

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe has finally given in to domestic and regional pressure and agreed to warn Zimbabwe’s security commanders against threatening to intervene against any regime without liberation war credentials that wins the forthcoming watershed elections.

Mugabe’s agreement to convene a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) tomorrow, the first in five months, to force generals to make a public statement swearing they will uphold the Constitution if Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai or any other candidate besides Mugabe wins, puts an end to months of military threats to veto the political transition in the country.  

Top Zanu PF figures have also fanned flames by threatening to seize power if anyone without liberation war credentials wins: and by vowing to crush the opposition, described as “puppets of the West” seeking to reverse gains of the liberation struggle. The words reflect deeply-rooted thinking in large parts of the top echelons. Attempts to negotiate a solution to the power struggle between rivals appeared to hit a stalemate, until Mugabe finally agreed to take a stand against coup threats on Monday during the Principals’ meeting held at Munhumutapa Building.

Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson said there is “emerging consensus” among Principals that the election is a “civilian process” and the military has no say in the poll outcome.

Mugabe’s move to convene the NSC comes as his party’s Politburo also censured Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa and party spokesperson Rugare Gumbo for claiming the military would not recognise any leader who had not fought in the 70s liberation war.

The threat was designed specifically to unsettle Tsvangirai, who is expected to square off with Mugabe in a crunch watershed poll.

The veteran ruler fears the coup threats opens the country to an unnecessary foreign intervention and discredits the poll which he could win anyway if opinion polls are anything to go by.

Tomorrow’s meeting, which was yet to be confirmed by the generals at the time of going to print yesterday, will demand the repudiation of a military statement that the military would withhold support for any elected President deemed unfit, according to Tamborinyoka.

It has been an uphill battle for Tsvangirai, who has unsuccessfully taken the matter to Parliament and government watchdog Jomic seeking to force generals to make a pledge they will respect the Constitution if Mugabe loses.

Earlier, Mugabe himself had said calls for security sector reforms were totally unacceptable.

Despite Mugabe’s remonstrations that he will preserve his rule through his powerful generals; he is now backing down.

Our source said the South African government had raised alarm at the coup threats.

The South African government, which wants elections in June 2013, was cobbling up an “exit package” to help ease Mugabe’s retirement if he is defeated, as it did for former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda when Frederick Chiluba defeated him in 1990.

The South African government provided Kaunda with a retirement home in Pretoria and later persuaded the Zambian leader to quit the political stage altogether. Zuma reportedly wanted assurances Mugabe will be treated like a regional elder statesman just like former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Tsvangirai remains doubtful Mugabe would bow out gracefully and cautioned he might still try to hang onto power even if he lost the popular vote. Zuma has insisted on full implementation of the GPA and the election roadmap, a move that threatens Mugabe’s rule.  

Sources said Mugabe had agreed in the Principals meetings to negotiate a peaceful end to his reign if he loses, without any preconditions. But no details were provided.

But Mugabe reportedly demanded that Tsvangirai also accepts defeat if he loses and not raise flimsy rigging and violence claims.

The veteran ruler has reportedly emphasised the need for the international community to stop meddling in Zimbabwean affairs.

Analysts say Mugabe fully knows that seizing power was now totally unacceptable, and in three years, four coups that have rocked Africa, Madagascar, Mauritania, Guinea and Niger,  have all been met with widespread disapproval.

There are suggestions of a split in the top echelons of the security forces, but there is nothing on the ground to suggest that.

It seems Mugabe still enjoys and commands enough respect and loyalty to be able to count on the security commanders, a fact strongly disputed by the MDC.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist since independence from Britain in 1980 but faces the biggest test of three decades-plus rule from Tsvangirai, the veteran trade unionist and founder of the now ruling MDC. - Gift Phiri

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