Mugabe moves to undercut political rivals

Have Rhodesia's first one-man, one-vote elections brought power to the people -- or power to the party? There are growing signs that the winning party in last month's elections here -- the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party of Robert Mugabe -- is consolidating its own power, and undercutting rival political parties in the process.

Already, some observers are questioning whether one-party rule is in the offing for this southern African nation, which will soon be known as Zimbabwe.

That concern is probably premature, since Mr. Mugabe's party has been in power only about two weeks and has yet to formally take office. Yet ZANU is clearly strengthening its grip on this country's political system. And its governing body -- the 33-member Central Committee -- is apparently playing a powerful behind-the-scenes role in shaping the government.

The latest development: ZANU has used its powerful majority in the nation's House of Assembly to shut out nearly all rivals from the Senate, the lower house in this country's Parliament.

Senators are not directly elected by the voters here. Instead, they are appointed or elected by other bodies, including the House of Assembly. Senatorial posts carry more prestige than power: The 40-member chamber has only the power to delay -- but not to veto -- legislation.

Nevertheless, induction into the Senate is a handy way to bring lesser-known, but uniquely qualified persons into the government. Senators, for example, can serve alongside House members as Cabinet ministers.

Due to its strong majority in the house, ZANU can allocate half the Senate seats. At this writing it appears that ZANU will give fully 19 of those 20 seats to its own party members. (The remaining 20 seats are chosen by whites and traditional chiefs.) ZANU conceded only one seat to the Patriotic Front (PF) party of Joshua Nkomo -- even though the PF won one-fourth of the House seats reserved for blacks in last month's elections.

And even though the PF is paired with ZANU in a coalition government, it also came out on the short end of ministerial portfolios. It garnered only four of 23 Cabinet posts, less than its proportion in the House. And three of the four Cabinet portfolios given to PF members are minor ones. Mr. Nkomo himself heads the more powerful Ministry of Home Affairs. But no sooner was he given the post than its powers were reduced in a governmental reorganization.

zanu's political preeminence is apparently being engineered by the party's central committee, which played a key role in prosecuting the seven-year-long guerrilla war here. And the committee is said still to be exerting influence on Mar. Mugabe even in peacetime. The committee has approved, for example, nearly all his Cabinet appointments. Indeed, Central Committee members themselves occupy more than half (14 of 23) of the ministerial posts.

One man -- a member of both the Cabinet and the Central Committee -- says that if he could be in only one of the two bodies, he would choose the Central Committee. The "real decisions" will be reached in the Central Committee, he says, and the Cabinet will merely carry out party policy.

Another Cabinet member -- also a central committeeman -- says the committee has deliberately kept certain political "commissars" out of the government. Their role, he says, will be to ensure that the party is not out of step with the people -- and vice versa.

But whether this is a move toward democratizing the party -- or enlarging its sphere of influence -- remains to be seen.

Significantly, members of Salisbury's legions of unemployed are being steered to ZANU's campaign office -- and given job applications imprinted with party slogans. Some applicants are also reportedly being told to bring letters of recommendation from local party officials if they want to be seriously considered for employment.

Whether such developments portend creation of a one-party state here is debatable. Some profess to see Zimbabwe developing along the lines of certain East European and African states, where the ruling party and the government are virtually indistinguishable. Others argue that ZANU is only reaping the just rewards of a campaign victory, much as American political parties use patronage jobs to reward workers.

Mr. Mugabe has reportedly promised not to institute one-party government here unless the voters approve the move in a referendum. So far, the Patriotic Front is maintaining public silence over its treatment at the hands of ZANU. Officials of both parties downplay any notion of ill will between them. But few observers here expect that to last much beyond the opening of Zimbabwe's first Parliament, sometime in May.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Mugabe moves to undercut political rivals
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today