President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe will be allowed to try and extend his 33-year rule for another decade, according to a new constitution agreed to between his party and its main opponents to pave the way for elections.
While the constitution limits the holder of the office of president to two five-year terms, the measure is not retroactive, according to a copy of the document obtained by Bloomberg News from an official who helped negotiate the law. The position of Prime Minister, currently held by Mugabe’s political opponent Morgan Tsvangirai, will be abolished.
“A person is disqualified for election as President or Vice-President if he or she has already held office as President under this Constitution for two terms,” according to the document. The official confirmed that this means that terms served under the existing constitution will be disregarded for the purposes of eligibility for the next election.
The agreement of a new constitution between the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party of Mugabe, 88, and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, announced by the two leaders on Jan. 18, paves the way for a referendum on the new law to be followed by an election. Still, the clause allowing Mugabe to compete for the presidency represents a setback for the party of Tsvangirai. An initial draft of the constitution proposed by the MDC had disqualified Mugabe from further rule.
“We will definitely campaign for a yes vote at the referendum,” Rugare Gumbo, a spokesman for Zanu-PF, said in an interview today. “We’re happy with this constitution.”
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have ruled Zimbabwe in a coalition government since 2009 when the 15-nation Southern African Development Community compelled the leaders to form a government together to end a decade-long political dispute and economic recession. Mugabe and his party won a series of elections between 2000 and 2008 that were described by observers including those from the European Union as flawed by violence and irregularities.
In the last election in 2008 Tsvangirai won a first-round presidential vote without taking the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a run off. He withdrew from the run-off, citing violent attacks on his supporters by backers of Mugabe.
“It’s clearly a compromise document, but I think its clearly the basis for a move forward,” said Brian Raftopoulos. director of research at the Solidarity Peace Trust, a Cape Town-based human rights group, in an interview. “It’s likely to pass through a referendum.”
Eric Matinenga, the country’s constitutional affairs minister, declined to discuss the contents of new constitution at a Jan. 26 press conference in the capital, Harare. He said he expects it to be endorsed by parliament next month and said the document would be released to the public soon. Tsvangirai told Bloomberg in Davos on Jan. 18 that the president would be limited to two terms without giving further information. He said a referendum will likely be held in March and election later this year.
The constitution also bars members of the security services from furthering the interest of political parties.
In addition clauses regarding land ownership mean that the ownership of white-owned commercial farms, seized in a program begun by Mugabe in 2000 and given to mainly black subsistence farmers, will not be restored. Mugabe has maintained that as the land was taken from its original black owners during British colonial rule the U.K. should pay compensation for any seized land.
“The former colonial power has an obligation to pay for land compulsorily acquired for resettlement, according to the constitution. ‘‘The Government of Zimbabwe has no obligation to pay compensation.’’
The seizures slashed exports of tobacco, then Zimbabwe’s biggest export, and cut flowers and turned the country into an importer of its staple food, corn.
Zimbabwe has the world’s second-biggest platinum and chrome deposits after South Africa and also has reserves of coal, diamonds and gold. Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. operate platinum mines in the country while Rio Tinto Plc runs a diamond mine. Units of Barclays Plc and Standard Chartered Plc operate in the country.
Mugabe helped lead an armed struggle and subsequent negotiations that led to the end of whites-only rule in 1980. He later consolidated power by merging his party with the rival Zimbabwe African People’s Union in 1987 after a crackdown on the Ndebele ethnic group from which that party drew its support.
‘‘Given the balance of political forces in Zimbabwe it was predictable that his influence, his continued support from the armed forces for him meant that his continued presence there was always going to be a factor,” Raftopoulos said.