Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa's announcement that the Zanu PF presidium will be determined by a secret ballot has been viewed as a ploy to scuttle Vice President Joice Mujuru at the December elective congress.

While the "one-man one-vote" system was at the centre of President Robert Mugabe's bitter complaints after it had marred the youth league vote through ballot fraud, the Zanu PF legal secretary's insistence that this is the model to be followed has set alarm bells that his supporters were hoping to use the secret ballot to push through their candidate(s) at the key congress.

Even though some party functionaries and analysts have okayed the secret ballot, saying there was nothing sinister about it since it had been in use from years ago, Mugabe's party has not used the model in electing its leaders and specifically the presidium in recent years.

Rugare Gumbo, the Zanu PF spokesperson, yesterday refused to comment on the issue when contacted by the news crew and referred further questions to the party legal affairs secretary.

"On that one (electoral model) you must talk to Mnangagwa, he is the one responsible for legal issues."

While efforts to obtain comment from Mnangagwa were futile yesterday, he told the State media at the weekend: "That is what the Constitution says. If you read the Constitution, it says delegates at the Congress will vote through the one-man-one vote (system)."

However, concerns abound that those sympathetic to the ex-Defence minister and other groups vying for power are hoping to use the secret ballot to cover lost political ground in the race to succeed the 90-year-old Mugabe.

In the aftermath of last year's provincial executive elections and the youth league conference in August, there have been widespread views that several Mujuru loyalists had swept the deck, thus firmly placing her to succeed the ageing president whenever he chooses to leave power or is incapacitated.

And as the internecine succession wars escalate, the Zanu PF number two's rivals have been using various measures to narrow the gap, and this has been evident in the complaints that have even sucked in Mugabe.

For a man perpetually linked to a duel with Mujuru, the timing of Mnangagwa's "statement" has raised great suspicion.

While some analysts say the secret ballot was key in democratising Zanu PF, others said Mujuru may still come out tops.

Alex Magaisa, a legal expert, yesterday said those pushing for the secret ballot are banking on the belief that they stand a better chance where individuals are allowed to vote on their own than where they make a choice by popular acclamation as has been the case over the years.

Magaisa said if a secret ballot is used, they can wage a campaign to win support, confident that voters will not be intimidated and will be free to make their choices.

He said legally, the national Constitution establishes the principle of voting by secret ballot and that one could easily use the legalistic approach in order to be seen to be complying with constitutional standards.

"Politically, however, I think they are trying to pre-empt use of the acclamation method which has been used before to retain Mugabe," Magaisa said.

"To my knowledge there has never been an election for the presidium. The closest they have come is by way of acclamation. But then that is tantamount to rule by the mob. So many dissenting voices would have been buried under the chorus of acclamation in respect of a nominee."

On the other hand, political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said Zanu PF had always had the secret ballot model and that nothing would change.

Mandaza said results of the December congress would confirm what came out of the youth league elections.

"It's not anything new," he said.

"The results will confirm the youth results because the same system was used and those who alleged vote buying will be left with egg on face," said Mandaza, adding that the party had used the same method even at the 1984 congress.

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