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Zanu-PF hears 'comeback' message

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Harare

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Robert Mugabe is optimistic about his party's future election success

Mingling among the tinsel and other trappings of Christmas, the men and women who constitute the backbone of Zanu-PF swayed to old party songs.

Many wore the party's colours - black, green, yellow and red - and bore the image of President Robert Mugabe.

Mr Mugabe - the man they have chosen to lead them for the past 30 years - this weekend received a mandate to continue for another five.

With such a strong presence of Zanu-PF at the rally venue, it was hard to imagine that this was where last year's power-sharing deal was thrashed out.

It was a deal born out of necessity, given Zanu-PF's dismal performance at the polls, and a deal which forced it into an unhappy marriage with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Ten months on from the formation of that "inclusive government", and Zanu-PF has made it clear that it is "raring to go", rallying its political troops for elections which Mr Mugabe warned were "just around the corner".

But despite the rhetoric, the party knows that were it to go to the country tomorrow, it would be unlikely to win outright.

Factionalism

The key partners in the unity government have little incentive to push for elections just now.

Though a temporary arrangement, it may have possibly two more years of life left, so elections are unlikely to be as close as the headlines in the state-owned press suggest.

Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe in parliament, 2 Dec
Zimbabwe's "inclusive government" was formed 10 months ago

A recent survey by Zimbabwe's Mass Public Opinion Institute found that just 10% of the population of Mashonaland Central - once a Zanu-PF stronghold - would vote for Mr Mugabe. It is a sign of the times.

One observer at the congress described Mr Mugabe as a "president in distress", trying to rein in a party showing signs of factionalism and divisions along ethnic lines.

Certainly, in the days leading up to the event there have been tussles between various cliques in Zanu-PF jostling for control.

But Mr Mugabe issued a stern warning. In a moment of unprecedented candour, he told delegates that their party was "eating itself", playing into the hands of the opposition.

Rapturous applause followed the announcement that Jonathan Moyo was firmly back in the party fold.

The former information minister, a man credited as the architect of some of the most repressive legislation curtailing freedom of speech, now occupies a powerful position in the party's central committee - a party he was kicked out of back in 2005.

It is hard to judge the motive behind this move, but Mr Mugabe was clear that no man or woman is bigger than the party.

He knows that ambitious figures are trying to position themselves for a post-Mugabe era.

Nevertheless, looking stronger than ever, the president gave no hint of any intention to step down.

Uncertain future

Outside the congress, urban Zimbabweans generally accept that the country is in a better shape than it was a year ago.

There is food on the supermarket shelves, civil servants are now getting paid and the crippling queues at the banks have vanished.

Delegate at Zanu-PF rally in Harare
Zanu-PF delegates were told to prepare for their party's comeback

But although the introduction of the US dollar may have afforded Zimbabwe some stability, the future is still unclear, and people remain nervous about speaking out.

Outstanding issues from last year's power-sharing deal - the so-called Global Political Agreement - have still to be implemented.

And the party membership is urging Zanu-PF not to give any more ground at the negotiating table, until targeted sanctions imposed by the West are lifted.

Overall, it has been a defensive few days for Zanu-PF with new faces on the executive but very few new ideas.

Delegates have been sent home with the president's speech ringing in their ears.

His message: that they must prepare their party for a massive comeback, once the life of the inclusive government expires.



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