Mugabe Plans to Rule Until Age of 100
Reversing a vow to step down by 2008 and rejecting fraud charges in recent vote, he warns Zimbabwe's opposition against staging protests.
LA Times | April 3, 2005
By Robyn Dixon
HARARE, Zimbabwe — A triumphant President Robert Mugabe, whose ruling party won parliamentary elections condemned by Western powers as unfair, declared Saturday that he would stay in power until he was 100.
Flanked by two stuffed lions that looked a bit moth-eaten about the ears, Zimbabwe's 81-year-old president greeted international journalists at a news conference with the words "Are you afraid?"
He warned of serious violence and a tough response if the opposition took to the streets.
After 25 years in power, Mugabe answered a question on retirement plans by mapping out 19 more years at the helm, unless he dies in office.
He had earlier promised to step down by 2008.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF party took 78 seats in the 150-seat parliament, leaving 41 seats for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and one independent. The remaining 30 seats are appointed by Mugabe.
The result gave the ruling party the two-thirds majority it needed to change the constitution and tighten its grip on power. After speculation that the majority would be used to choose his successor without elections, Mugabe said Saturday, "There's no need for any succession at the moment."
U.S. and European monitors were prohibited from observing the elections. Only those from friendly nations such as South Africa were invited. On Saturday, the South African observer mission said it believed the vote reflected the will of the people, dismissing the objections of the MDC that the election was stolen.
"I don't believe any sane person will come and endorse this kind of election," MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said after releasing a long list of allegations of unfairness: a high percentage of voters turned away from the polls, suspect voter rolls, repressive legislation to prevent opposition activities until late in the campaign and a use of government food distribution to intimidate people facing severe shortages into voting ZANU-PF.
MDC leaflets Saturday called on Zimbabweans to pressure the government to reverse the election results, without spelling out what people should do. The move echoed the opposition's efforts Friday, when Tsvangirai called on people to come out and "defend their vote."
But Mugabe vowed to meet any mass protests with a tough response, warning that strikes were illegal and marches would not be tolerated. In the past, Mugabe's security forces have ruthlessly crushed dissent, leaving many reluctant to take to the streets for fear of being beaten or killed.
Mugabe called on the MDC to be "sporting enough to accept defeat and not look for excuses."
Asked what response he might have to peaceful civil protests, he said: "Those are not a peaceful people. History has shown us they are a very violent people. They have had demonstrations here, very violent demonstrations.
"All law and order instruments will be used to defend [against] any mass action that will be likely to lead to lawlessness in the city," Mugabe said. "We don't accept pressure at all."
He dismissed the MDC call for pressure as a move to mollify disappointed supporters.
"How can we ever reverse what the people decided?" he said.
At the end of his news conference, Mugabe told journalists they need not fear his two lions, saying, "They are very friendly lions, and they display the nature of their master."