After 40 years at the helm of the party, Robert Mugabe, the beleaguered leader of Zimbabwe has today been fired from his role as president by ZANU PF. This sacking completes the toughest week that Mugabe has ever endured in his long and controversial political career. It’s a week that saw a military takeover of his government and a day of huge mass protests in Harare and Bulawayo.
Rejected by his military, denounced by the people of Zimbabwe and now dethroned by his own party, Mugabe is clearly facing political oblivion. One of the very few survivors’ of the founding fathers of the liberation struggle, it is impossible to see how he can possibly recover from his his current predicament. But what is the meaning of all the move that has been taken by ZANU PF to sack him as president?
One of the questions that has been raised is whether this means he now automatically loses his role as national President. The party complicates the issue by using the terminology of “recall” saying that the Chief Whip of the party has been tasked to initiate proceedings to “recall” Mugabe if he does not resign by midday tomorrow. It gives the impression that there is a legal process of recall.
The simple answer is that there is no legal procedure of recall of a President, unless of course by recall ZANU PF is referring to the process of removal or impeachment. In particular, the fact that he has been removed as ZANU PF leader does not automatically mean that he has also lost his position as national president. The party should use the correct terminology to avoid confusion. What they want to do is called removal (or impeachment) in our constitution, not recall.
The source of the belief that the ruling party can recall the President probably comes from comparisons with the system that applies in South Africa. There, they saw former President Mbeki being recalled by his party the ANC in 2008 and consequently losing the presidency as a result of that recall. However, the electoral and political systems in Zimbabwe and South Africa are different. The constitutional rules are also different.
A local source of confusion may be the existence of the rule that an MP or Senator can be expelled from Parliament at the request of the party that he or she represented when they were elected. It was used by both the MDC-T and ZANU PF in the current parliament. This rule applies to MPs/Senators only but it DOES NOT apply to the President.
A political party has every right to sack its President in accordance with its rules, as ZANU PF has done. In the current context, although it does not lead to loss of national office, it is a big political statement which demonstrates a serious erosion of Mugabe’s political authority and therefore in many ways, political legitimacy. Thus while he is still the national leader by law, politically, he is now totally vulnerable and weak.
Although the firing of a President by his party does not affect his position as national President, it does have some important practical consequences:
First, if the President no longer has the support of his party it means he can no longer control parliament. His capacity to govern is severely compromised because since he won’t have the numbers to pass any legislation including the budget (called the Appropriation Bill) which is essential to the running of government. According to the constitution, a situation where parliament rejects the budget could lead to the dissolution of parliament and consequently general elections.
Second, he will struggle to form a cabinet, therefore breaking a constitutional requirement. This is because while a president can appoint up to 5 cabinet members from outside parliament, the majority of cabinet members must be drawn from parliament. Unless he has some loyal MPs who will stick with him after his sacking by his party, Mugabe will not be able to form a constitutionally recognizable cabinet.
After Wednesday’s military action, Mugabe was already a lame-duck president. Now though things have only got worse for him. His crisis will deepen if members of his cabinet resign en masse. He will be left without a government. The consequences of firing Mugabe from the party are fatal to his presidency. He has now lost control of the parliamentary party, which is essential to running government. After the mass protests, he will struggle to convince his peers in Africa that he still enjoys political support to sustain his presidency.
Mugabe may complain about the legality of actions by his fellow party members, but this will be hypocrisy of the highest order. During his career, he has used the very same methods that have now been used against him. He is standing on very thin ground. In any event, as he himself has said in the past, once a party has disowned and fired you, it is not for the courts to force it to associate with you. It’s an argument he has used against those who were fired on his authority in the past. If it applied then, surely it applies now to him, too.
Can he dissolve parliament in advance of the removal proceedings ZANU PF now wants to launch if he fails to resign? He does not possess that power. He could dissolve parliament if it passed a vote of no confidence in his government. However, he has no power to dissolve parliament if it removes him as President. A vote of no confidence and removal of the president are two different processes which are regulated differently. Unfortunately some people have mixed them up and caused confusion in these debates. It is important to understand that they are different and that Mugabe has no power to dissolve parliament merely because he has been removed or impeached from office.
What Mugabe needs now is to be saved from himself. He is a stubborn man who has allowed power to get to his head that he does not realise that he is not only causing harm to millions but is also a source of danger to himself and those closest to him. This is where his peers and friends must come in to help hi. He might at least walk away with whatever dignity he has remaining.