HARARE (Reuters) - A retired Zimbabwean general and acolyte of ex-president Robert Mugabe has formed a political party to challenge President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the polls later this year, the new grouping said on Monday.
Mugabe, 94, was forced to step down last November following a de facto military coup. Sources close to the former leader say he is bitter over his departure after 37 years in office and has given his support to the New Patriotic Front (NFP) party.
Ambrose Mutinhiri, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war, quit the ruling ZANU-PF party and gave up his parliamentary seat last Friday, then met Mugabe on Sunday to brief him about the latest developments, an NPF statement said.
The NPF said it was formed by ZANU-PF members and Zimbabweans “outraged by the unconstitutional and humiliating manner in which President Mugabe was criminally ousted from leadership ... by real criminals who have shamefully damaged Zimbabwe’s fledgling democracy”.
Mugabe’s policies are blamed by many for the decline of Zimbabwe from breadbasket to basket case, with unemployment above 80 percent, dilapidated public infrastructure and severe shortages of hard currency that spawned hyper-inflation.
Mnangagwa said in January Zimbabwe would hold transparent elections by July and he would respect the result if the opposition won - a pledge crucial to unlocking urgently needed financial assistance and repairing relations with Western powers and international financial institutions.
Still, the NPF said it would soon challenge the legality of Mnangagwa’s government at the Constitutional Court.
The High Court ruled in November that the military intervention was lawful, as it halted a bid by people in his entourage to take over his duties, and African and Western countries have since accepted Mnangagwa’s presidency.
Mutinhiri, an ethnic Zezuru like Mugabe, has no known political base. He joins the ranks of other opposition political parties like the Movement for Democratic Change, whose founding president Morgan Tsvangirai died from cancer last month, and Joice Mujuru, a former Mugabe deputy.
The state-owned Herald newspaper, which reflects government thinking, asserted that Mutinhiri was a stalking horse for Mugabe, his wife Grace and the vanquished ZANU-PF G40 group that had opposed Mnangagwa’s political rise.
It was Grace’s tilt at power that triggered the military intervention in November.
Quoting an unnamed government source, the Herald said Mugabe and his wife were also anxious about their investments, including a dairy firm and several farms.
“Essentially, what it means is it’s the former president who is trying to stage a‘second coming’ behind the person of the dutiful and beholden Ambrose Mutinhiri,” the source was quoted by the Herald as saying. (Editing by Ed Stoddard and Mark Heinrich)