HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s ruling party on Friday adopted a motion to hold elections in 2008 and endorsed President Robert Mugabe as its presidential candidate, allowing him to stand for another term as leader of the crumbling country.
“The resolution was accepted by the central committee ... and so both the presidential and parliamentary elections will now be held in 2008,” Nathan Shamuyarira, national ZANU-PF spokesman said after the meeting.
“The candidate of the party will be the President (Mugabe) himself. He was endorsed by the central committee at the meeting today,” said Shamuyarira, adding the presidential term will be cut to five years from the current six.
Mugabe has faced international condemnation over a brutal crackdown on opponents this month, which left opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai injured and hospitalized after police stopped a banned prayer rally to protest against a deepening economic crisis.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told journalists at the same briefing the central committee had also decided that if a presidential vacancy occurred in between elections an acting president would be chosen by parliament to complete the term.
Chinamasa said local government polls would also be held in 2008 and the parliamentary lower house of assembly would be expanded from the current 150 members to 210. Parties would fill the upper house — Senate — with representatives on the basis of their proportional vote in parliament.
The Senate would be expanded from 66 to 84 members.
Critics say Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s sole ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, has plunged the country into crisis through his policies, including the seizure of white-owned farms to give to landless blacks.
But Mugabe earlier told the central committee to resist “the machinations of the West”, which he has blamed for an outbreak of violence following the police crackdown on the opposition.
“Our organs ... have to adopt a high sense of vigilancy and militancy,” he said, one day after winning regional backing for his crackdown despite calls for tough action from the West.
Mugabe, 83, has accused the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of mounting a “terrorist” campaign to remove him from office and defended violent police sweeps this month which saw dozens of MDC activists arrested.
On Thursday, a special crisis summit of Southern African leaders publicly expressed solidarity with Mugabe, while calling for renewed political dialogue and an end to Western sanctions against his government.
The veteran leader had sought to win ZANU-PF backing to extend his rule over Zimbabwe, which now faces its worst crisis in history with inflation running at more than 1,700 percent, soaring joblessness, and regular food and fuel shortages.
Mugabe had suggested extending his term by two years to 2010 but ran into resistance in his party. He then proposed running for president again when his current six-year term ends in 2008 — outflanking opponents who planned to oppose the 2010 option.
Mugabe’s candidacy had already won backing from the party’s key women and youth leagues, whose members make up a sizeable number of the 245-member central committee.
Analysts had seen little opposition to Mugabe, saying his nomination was a formality because the ZANU-PF constitution stipulates that the party president, elected at a congress every five years, automatically becomes the presidential candidate.
Mugabe was elected at the party’s last congress in 2004 and has not faced an election since then.
He said his fellow African leaders understood that his government was under attack by the West as revenge for his policy of seizing white-owned farms to give to landless blacks.
“We are a family. Our detractors have been shamed,” he said, accusing some major television news networks of demonizing his government and laughing off British and U.S. suggestions that he might be on the way out.
Mugabe said he had told SADC leaders that Tsvangirai deserved beating by police earlier this month in an incident which drew outrage, including from some Western countries which threatened stiffer action against the veteran leader.