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Zimbabwe's Mugabe Backs Two-Year Extension Of His Term To 2010

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has thrown his weight behind a proposal being considered by his ruling ZANU-PF party to put off the presidential election due in 2008 until 2010 when it would be held at the same time as parliamentary elections.

His party's politburo approved the so-called “harmonization” of elections Wednesday and the proposal was cleared by its central committee Thursday. The broader party will take it up this week at its annual conference. But observers said the ZANU-PF rank and file would fall into line with the strategy laid out by the leadership.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Mugabe Wednesday as telling a Canadian television reporter he not only approved the idea - but came up with it. He said he would not step down if that would leave his party in disarray.

Political analyst Heneri Dzinotyiwei, chairman of the Zimbabwe Integrated Program, said harmonizing elections as a general concept was proposed as far back as 2000 by a government-appointed commission and the National Constitutional Assembly among other civic groups. But at that time Mr. Mugabe largely ignored the proposal.

Dzinotyiwei harmonization must not be misconstrued to mean that Mugabe, who would normally leave office in 2008, must continue to rule until 2010. He said Mugabe must make way for others as continuing beyond 2008 would be a disaster for the country.

Researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the so-called “harmonization” is a self-serving maneuver for Mr. Mugabe's ruling party.

Despite Mugabe’s signal that he won’t leave office soon, rifts in his party are widening. Two presidential hopefuls – ZANU-PF Chairman John Nkomo and the ruling party's legal affairs secretary, Emmerson Mnangagwa - are currently embroiled in a bitter defamation dispute in which various other top officials have taken sides.

Mnangagwa has sued Nkomo for defamation, accusing the party chairman of saying in court that Mnangagwa tried to organize a coup against Mugabe in late 2004 when the president was taking steps to elevate Joyce Mujuru to become a vice president.

Lawyer Jonathan Samkange, representing Mnangagwa, said recently that he and his client were raising the stakes even higher in the Z$500 million defamation case, arguing that Nkomo’s testimony in a related court case were very malicious.

VOA was unable to reach Nkomo’s lawyer, Francis Chirimuuta, as he was said to be out of the country.

But Samkange told VOA reporter Zulu that lawyers for Nkomo have now responded to the suit.

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