December 15, 2018 / 2:17 PM / in a month

Zimbabwe ruling party okays Mnangagwa re-election bid in 2023

FILE PHOTO - President Emmerson Mnangagwa arrives for the official opening of the ruling party ZANU PF's annual conference in Esigodini, outside Bulawayo, Zimbabwe December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

ESIGODINI, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s ruling party on Saturday gave the go-ahead to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to run for a second five-year term in 2023, all but ending speculation the 76-year-old would step down for one of his deputies at the next election.

Mnangagwa came to power in November 2017 after veteran leader Robert Mugabe was forced to resign following an army coup. He was then elected in a July presidential vote that his main opponent says he won fraudulently.

His endorsement by ZANU-PF members - so soon after the vote and as Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis in a decade - will be seen by critics as taking a page from Mugabe, who pursued holding on to power at all costs.

Mnangagwa, nicknamed “Crocodile”, did not make reference to the resolution backing his run for a second term as he closed a two-day conference of some 6,000 ZANU-PF members in Esigodini, 500 km south-west of the capital Harare.

“We are in the process of reforming our party. We have the duty and burden to explain these reforms to our people. We want to entrench the rule of law,” he said, without giving details.

ZANU-PF also said it planned to amend laws restricting media freedom and anti-government protests, one of several demands by the United States, which maintains sanctions on the president and senior party figures.

Mnangagwa has previously called for U.S. sanctions against himself, ZANU-PF officials, top military figures and some government-owned firms to be lifted.

The sanctions were imposed during Mugabe’s rule for violations of human rights and democracy.

Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ros Russell

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