President Robert Mugabe shocked Zimbabwe on Sunday night with a televised address that failed to announce his highly anticipated resignation, a dramatic twist that means the 93-year-old may face immediate impeachment hearings.
Whether the final act of defiance was planned or simply the result of reading the wrong remarks, three senior party officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Mugabe deviated from an agreed-upon-text announcing he was leaving office. His ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front will start a bid in parliament on Monday to force an end to this 37 years in power, the officials said.
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Delivering the nationally televised address with the armed forces commanders who took power last week looking on, Mugabe, who is the world’s oldest serving leader at 93, frequently lost his place and had to repeat himself. He said the southern African nation must not be guided by “bitterness” and urged Zimbabweans to “move forward.”
“Mugabe is dragging down the process as he tries to look for a dignified exit on his own terms,” Rashweat Mukundu, an analyst with the Harare-based Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said by phone. “The impeachment process will still go ahead while on the other hand he will try and resign on his own terms.”
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Earlier Sunday, Zanu-PF central committee decided to fire Mugabe as its leader and ordered him to step down. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who Mugabe dismissed as vice president this month, will be reinstated, take over as interim president and be Zanu-PF’s presidential candidate in elections next year, the party said. It also expelled the president’s wife, Grace, the nation’s other vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko, along with several other senior officials.
The ruling party’s decision to dump Mugabe came four days after the military placed him under house arrest and detained several of his closest allies -- a move triggered by his dismissal of Mnangagwa, 75. Seeing the likelihood of Mugabe’s ouster, joyous crowds turned out in Harare and Bulawayo -- Zimbabwe’s second-largest city -- on Saturday to celebrate.
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“It’s not clear what happened but we are proceeding tomorrow,” Chris Mutsvanga, the head of the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association, said in reference to the planned impeachment proceedings in parliament. “Mugabe is deaf to the people of Zimbabwe. The people are 100 percent behind removing him.”
The political crisis comes at a time when the economy is in free-fall. An estimated 95 percent of the workforce is unemployed, public infrastructure is crumbling and about 3 million Zimbabweans have gone into exile.
“We all thought he was going to resign. Then it became clear he was disassociating himself from this and was positioning himself as the answer to Zimbabwe’s problems,” Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., said by phone from Harare. “This might be a last gambit by Mugabe. It’s unclear why the military allowed him to make this speech.”
Updates with analyst comment in fourth paragraph.
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