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Loyalists Of Zimbabwean President Mugabe Shore Up His 2008 Candidacy

Loyalists of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe are already taking steps to shape the agenda of the extraordinary congress of his ruling ZANU-PF party set for December to ensure Mr. Mugabe's candidacy is not challenged.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper stated Thursday that the sole purpose of the congress will be to affirm that Mr. Mugabe will be the party’s candidate in next year’s presidential election. This would make it hard for anyone to mount a challenge to his leadership, as some believe Vice President Joyce Mujuru and her husband, retired General Solomon Mujuru, might attempt to do at the gathering.

Mrs. Mujuru during a recent trip to Cuba was quoted as saying that the sole agenda of the congress select a candidate for the presidential election - suggesting that ruling party delegates might consider and nominate someone other than Mr. Mugabe.

Party insiders say that after consulting lawyers loyal to Mr. Mugabe, loyalists of the president are now arguing that under the ZANU-PF constitution, a challenge to Mr. Mugabe’s preeminence can only be mounted in 2009 when the ruling party's next ordinary congress is due - ruling out consideration of another candidate.

But the Mujuru camp says the leadership of the party - and consequently candidacy for president can be taken up at an extraordinary congress like that in view.

Mr. Mugabe's position has been bolstered by support from the war veterans faction led by Jabulani Sibanda, who has been organizing provincial rallies in support of the president, declaring that those who refuse to back Mr. Mugabe are "sellouts."

Delegates to the ZANU-PF national conference in Goromonzi last year failed to reach consensus on Mr. Mugabe's candidacy, necessitating the extraordinary congress.

South African-based political analyst Glen Mpani told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that such mixed signals from various ZANU-PF factions show that Mr. Mugabe is now a divisive figure within the party.

Commentator Bill Saidi said ZANU-PF was in disarray, with some of the party's political provinces opposed to having Mr. Mugabe stand as the party's candidate.

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