Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was endorsed again by his party to stand for elections expected next year, but analysts say even for a veteran political survivor, the 87-year-old leader will find it harder to convince voters to extend his rule after 32 years in power.
Mugabe, they said, would face young voters, many born after independence from Britain in 1980, who may not be overly impressed with his party’s tales of its leadership role in the liberation struggle and are instead desperate to find jobs in the country which has the world’s highest unemployment rate.
Zanu-PF members want Mugabe to hand over the reins to a younger leader, but nobody has ever openly challenged him due to a generous political patronage system and his ability to patiently wear down opponents and keep them guessing on his next move.
“Mugabe has kept going by looking after everybody in some way, balancing various interests, managing the warring factions fighting over who takes over from him and cynically making himself the glue holding Zanu-PF together,” said Eldred Masunungure, political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.
“For Zanu-PF, he is both a liability and an asset in the sense of unifying the party, but is also a big liability for them in electoral terms because he is difficult to sell to the voters as representing any new direction,” he said. Mugabe told his party conference he would step up a drive to force foreign-owned firms to sell majority stakes to blacks, following his seizures of white-owned farms in the past decade.
Analysts said Zanu-PF nominated Mugabe because it still has to solve a long-standing succession battle in its ranks, and the party has grudgingly accepted that Mugabe has manoeuvred himself into a position where he could end up president for life. Mugabe would be an improbable 93-year-old when he finishes a five-year-term if he wins an election in 2012 against main rival Morgan Tsvangirai, who charges that Zanu-PF has rigged and robbed him of victory in three major polls since 2000.
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