A state-owned Zimbabwean newspaper is reporting that the new draft constitution, leaked last week, could prevent President Robert Mugabe from running for office. The salient clause, drafted by members of his own ZANU-PF party, states that “a person is disqualified for election as President if he or she has already held office for one or more periods, whether continuous or not, amounting to 10 years.” Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, despite presiding over the spectacular decline of one of the continent’s most promising economies. At a time when several entrenched dictatorships have been quickly ousted, this is an unexpected development in a country whose political processes have been perennially complex and opaque.
Executive term limits has long been a contentious issue, as the ZANU-PF is the sole political party in Zimbabwe without term limits for its representatives. Failed attempts to rewrite the constitution in 1999 and 2007 still left the ruling party intact, making this rare display of discord within ZANU-PF a possible consolation to the steady clamor for a truly democratic constitution. South African President Jacob Zuma has also continued his public condemnation of Mugabe, asserting that a new democratic constitution must precede any elections. He is expected to facilitate power-sharing talks.
The aging Mugabe turns 88 today, and has been fending off a 2008 WikiLeaks report on his treatment for prostate cancer. He has repeated his pledge to hold elections this year “with or without a new constitution” against the power-sharing agreement to run a poll after a new constitution has been written and approved. Moreover, Zimbabwe’s constitutional committee will almost certainly remove the clause as it finishes review of the draft. Thus celebrations for the dictator’s birthday continues apace, with a cheerful Mugabe saying he has no plans to retire soon.
UPDATE: As expected, the constitutional committee clarified the term limit clause by adding ‘under this constitution,’ thereby allowing Mugabe to run in the next elections. Genuine democratic reform through the constitutional process remains a bleak prospect.