Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s ruling party opened a meeting Sunday to consider a vote of no confidence in President Robert Mugabe, a day after tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand the veteran leader’s ouster.
Members of the ZANU-PF party, which Mugabe co-founded to usher his country into independence, have turned on their 93-year-old leader after months of infighting over who should succeed him. The party had on Friday called for Mugabe’s resignation, the state-run Herald reported.
Removing Mugabe as party leader would not automatically dethrone him as Zimbabwe’s president, but it would be a sign that the embattled leader has lost his powerful support base.
Mugabe’s 37-year rule has been on the brink of collapse since the army seized power in the capital, Harare, on Wednesday while military officials tried to strike a deal with the President to resign.
Zimbabwe was thrust into political chaos on November 6 when Mugabe fired his powerful vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in an attempt to anoint his wife, Grace Mugabe, as the country’s next leader. The ZANU-PF has also called for Grace Mugabe to resign as leader of the party’s women’s league.
Sources have told CNN that a deal would involve Mugabe stepping down to make way for an interim President, while Mnangagwa would likely be installed as the next ZANU-PF leader at a congress in December, paving the way for the presidency in next year’s election.
But after days of talks with military officials, with a Catholic priest as arbiter, Mugabe has refused to agree to a deal, an official told CNN. State media reports he will on Sunday again meet with military officials, who are growing increasingly impatient with the leader.
Zimbabwe’s Indigenization Minister Patrick Zhuwao, who is also Mugabe’s nephew, said the President “is willing to die for his principles.”
“He is willing to die to protect the constitution.”
Mugabe is the world’s oldest head of state and once infamously claimed that “only God” could remove him from office. He had planned to contest the 2018 presidential election.
Mnangagwa has not been seen since his dismissal, but CNN has learned that he had been instrumental for some time in plans to seize control from the President.
“This takeover was planned a long time ago by Emmerson Mnangagwa and secret discussions did take place with opposition about a succession plan including forcing out Mugabe,” a senior opposition leader told CNN.
Mnangagwa served as Mugabe’s right-hand man throughout his entire leadership and is among many allies who have turned on the President, who is one of Africa’s longest serving leaders.
The country’s powerful army veterans organization, once loyal to Mugabe, has also turned on the President. The group organized a rally in Harare on Saturday, in which tens of thousands of people called for an end to Mugabe’s rule.
Some waved Zimbabwean flags and placards with slogans like “Mugabe Must Rest Now” and “No to Mugabe Dynasty,” a rare sight in Zimbabwe, where such gatherings had been banned for decades.
“The whole nation is celebrating today. We are finally getting rid of the old man,” said Tanashe, a Harare resident who declined to provide a second name.
Others ran alongside army tanks and hugged soldiers to show their gratitude for their actions.
Foreign powers have also largely supported the military’s actions so far, with few international voices condemning its apparent coup.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on the army to show restraint but described the situation in Zimbabwe as an “opportunity” for the country.
As reported by CNN