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Mugabe turns 85 with challenge in party, unity government
Fri Feb 20, 2009 10:20am EST
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By Cris Chinaka
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe celebrates his 85th birthday on Saturday facing a tough year even by the standards of such a veteran political survivor.
He has held on to power since independence from Britain in 1980 despite economic and political turmoils but now, for the first time, his party is sharing power with the opposition.
And within the ruling party's ranks, his advancing age has intensified a battle over who should succeed him.
"It's a landmark year," said Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe. "The way he will handle things will define Zimbabwe's direction in the coming months and his party's future in the coming years."
"It's going to be tough, even for a person of his skills."
The official birthday party of one of Africa's oldest and longest-ruling leaders will be a huge rally on February 28, but political analysts say he may struggle in the months thereafter.
Critics say he has held power this far with patience, cunning and ruthlessness, surviving international isolation and sanctions imposed by Western foes.
"Mugabe will pretend that he is in control. But he has a big challenge on his hands, staying in power when the stakes are against him," said John Makumbe, a veteran political analyst and outspoken Mugabe critic.
Mugabe lost a first presidential poll to his rival Morgan Tsvangirai a year ago before winning a subsequent runoff which the opposition boycotted over political violence.
His ZANU-PF party formed a fragile unity government with Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) a few weeks ago.
Analysts say the partners have no choice but to make it work despite their policy and personality differences.
"The economy is in such bad shape that the public is demanding that they work together, and so I think it will survive for a while," Masunungure said.
John Robertson, a leading economic consultant in Harare, said rebuilding Zimbabwe's economy without massive foreign assistance is going to be difficult and credit for any effort is likely to go the MDC.
"For ZANU-PF, the challenge is how do you claim any credit for an economy that you destroyed," Robertson said. "But if things go wrong too now, the MDC has also become culpable."
"The goodwill currently belongs to the MDC, and Mugabe and ZANU-PF have to find ways of managing power and politics in this new arrangement," Masunungure added. Continued...
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