Zimbabwe’s longtime President Robert Mugabe is refusing to step down in the face of an ultimatum delivered by the country’s ruling party: resign or face impeachment.
In a shocking departure from what was expected to be an announcement of resignation, Mugabe said in a Sunday night televised address that he would stay on, reports the Associated Press.
The Central Committee of the ZANU-PF fired Mugabe as party leader on Sunday and gave him less than 24 hours to resign the presidency. Party officials had said they would begin impeachment proceedings if Mugabe didn’t leave office by noon Monday.
Left without recourse, Mugabe met with the army commander who had placed him under house arrest to negotiate the end of his 37-year rule, according to the AP. But the 93-year-old leader now appears to be challenging his own party’s decree, to the surprise of millions who believed he was about to relinquish his grip on power.
Just days ago, army Gen. Constantino Chiwenga placed Mugabe under house arrest, striking a decisive blow in a power struggle between the president and rival factions of the ZANU-PF. The military intervention was prompted by Mugabe’s firing of former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, a move widely seen an obvious ploy to set up first lady Grace Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s next president.
Mnangagwa, a former state security chief who was briefly living in exile in South Africa, is expected to head an interim unity government when Mugabe steps down. One of Zimbabwe’s ruling elite who helped overthrow white minority rule in 1980, Mnangagwa is considered by military leaders as a legitimate presidential successor, in contrast to the younger, unpopular Grace Mugabe.
As the military has turned its back on Mugabe, his popular support has almost totally evaporated, as well. On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people spilled into the streets of Harare in a mass anti-Mugabe demonstration, celebrating the imminent removal of the onetime national hero now seen as a corrupt and feckless relic.
Under Mugabe’s repressive rule, once relatively prosperous Zimbabwe deteriorated into an economic basket case. An estimated 95 percent of the workforce is unemployed and 3 million Zimbabweans have gone into exile, according to Bloomberg. Those economic woes made Mugabe’s political machinations all the more intolerable for ruling party officials and Zimbabweans alike.
“He has been our leader for a long time and we have all learned a great deal from him,” said ZANU-PF member Obert Mpofu, according to the Associated Press. But Mpofu added that Mugabe “surrounded himself with a wicked cabal” that led to his undoing.
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