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Mugabe Signals Zimbabwe Presidential Succession Still Wide Open

Contradicting assumptions that he has already chosen his heir apparent, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said in a televised interview that his ruling ZANU-PF party should decide who will take his place if and when he steps down in 2008.

Political analysts said the speech was significant because it signaled that Mr. Mugabe is preparing the ruling party and the country for his exit after 26 years in power.

Mr. Mugabe made the comments Sunday on state television, two days before he was to mark his 82nd birthday Tuesday with celebrations in the eastern city of Mutare.

His late-2004 appointment of Joyce Mujuru as vice president had led many to assume she was his designated successor. But the president’s latest statements on national television suggested that an eventual transition may be more hotly contested.

He said the country’s next leader would be selected by ruling party officials chosen by the mechanism of the ZANU-PF party congress. “I think when the moment has come, they will be able to do it,” Mugabe said in the interview on state television. “You will always get this vying for power. They should go about it the right way,” he said.

He warned party leaders about secret compacts – a clear reference to a meeting held in the western town of Tsholotsho in late 2004 to organize opposition to the selection of Mujuru as vice president, and led to the downfall of several prominent members of the ruling party, including then-information minister Jonathan Moyo.

“Sure, we will always rely on the leadership that is elected at congress, and not from clandestine meetings – they will never win, never,” Mr. Mugabe declared.

Taking up economic matters, the president had harsh words for the International Monetary Fund, likening it to a “devil” that had lent money and demanded repayment. Mr. Mugabe rejected mainstream economic theory, saying the country could print the money it needs to drive the economy, create jobs and feed its population.

Economists criticized his remarks on the economy as irresponsible and misleading. One economist, central bank advisor Eric Bloch, said Mr. Mugabe was playing to the popular belief that profiteering by businesses is the cause of inflation, rather than excessive public spending or central bank expansion of the money supply.

Independent economist Daniel Ndlela told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyele of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that such statements by Mr. Mugabe indicate he is out of touch with economic realities. The economy has been contracting for six years, inflation was 613% in January and is expected to top 800%, and hunger is widespread.

Political activist Gordon Moyo, director of the Bulawayo Agenda organization, took issue with Mr. Mugabe’s emphasis on his ruling party as the mechanism to pick his successor, as opposed to the broader democratic process involving all parties.

Moyo told Studio 7 reporter Jonga Kadimirii that he expects the president will still be pulling political strings from his Harare retirement mansion now being built.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...