Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe allowed to try to extend his rule

New constitution gives 88-year-old president the chance to stay in power for another decade

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 4:00am

Robert Mugabe, the 88-year-old president of Zimbabwe, will be allowed to try to extend his 33-year rule for another decade, according to a new constitution agreed between his party and their 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 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," the document reads. However, the official said 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, and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, announced by the two leaders on January 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 Tsvangirai's party.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have ruled Zimbabwe in a coalition 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 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 but failed to get more than 50 per cent 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.

Eric Matinenga, the country's constitutional affairs minister, declined to discuss the contents of the new constitution at a press conference in Harare on Saturday. He expects it to be endorsed by Parliament next month.

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 programme begun by Mugabe in 2000 and given to mainly black subsistence farmers, will not be restored.