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 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.”
Read more: Bloomberg