Zimbabwe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party has been shaken by reports that former finance minister Simba Makoni, once a candidate to run the African Development Bank, may be launching a competing political party.
ZANU-PF sources said President Robert Mugabe, seeking another term in elections his government has called for March, had to cut short his annual vacation in the Far East and rush home to deal with the crisis. He arrived in Harare Tuesday.
Mr. Mugabe has called presidential, general and local elections for March. Despite the relatively short time remaining before the ballots, it is not too late in theory for Makoni to challenge Mr. Mugabe - though from the opposition point of view he might spoil the chances of Movement for Democratic Change founder Morgan Tsvangirai by siphoning off the votes of disenchanted ZANU-PF moderates.
Zimbabwe is in what seems very likely to be its ninth year of recession, production has collapsed and independent economists say hyperinflation is running over 50,000%. Food, fuel and water are in short supply and cash in circulation is scarce.
Backers of the new party are said to include former commerce minister Nkosana Moyo, former Mirror newspaper publisher Ibbo Mandaza, ZANU-PF politburo member Dumiso Dabengwa and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono.
The alleged splinter group is said to include a number of ZANU-PF members aligned with retired army general Solomon Mujuru, husband of Vice President Joyce Mujuru. His stance is not clear, though he is known to be politically close to Makoni.
The ruling party dissidents are said to have sent emissaries to sound out both factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change about political cooperation.
Sources said military intelligence and the Central Intelligence Organization have been ordered to investigate those said to be lining up behind Makoni.The security operation is said to be targeting members of the police, army, CIO and civil servants as well.
Mandaza, said to be the mastermind behind the political party in the making, told VOA that the formation would official launch "a few weeks from now."
Researcher Chris Maroleng of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mugabe is clearly struggling to keep his party together and warned of a violent crackdown on the dissidents.
Political analyst Professor John Makumbe said he is skeptical Makoni can form a party but said a broad-based alliance of dissidents could spell trouble for Mr. Mugabe.