Veteran strongman Robert Mugabe once said, apparently in jest, that he would rule Zimbabwe until he turned 100.
If Zimbabweans vote for a new constitution on March 16, he will not get the chance, but he may yet come very close.
Wednesday’s unveiling of dates for a constitutional referendum and July elections set Mr. Mugabe up for another decade in power. The new basic law would allow Zimbabwe’s President to run for the office again, and at two terms of five years each he could stay on as President until 2023, when he would be 99.
Mr. Mugabe, who turns 89 this month, is Africa’s oldest ruler and is eyeing re-election in July polls that should end an uneasy unity government with his rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
In June 2008, he was re-elected to a sixth term after entering a presidential runoff uncontested.
Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the race citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters, including torture and killings.
The two later formed an uneasy power-sharing government.
Born on February 21, 1924, Mr. Mugabe was described as a studious child and a loner.
He qualified as a teacher at the age of 17.
An intellectual who initially embraced Marxism, he took his first steps in politics after enrolling at Fort Hare University in South Africa.
Mr. Mugabe, whose Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) drew most of its support from ethnic Shona majority, has ruthlessly crushed dissent among the minority Ndebele people with his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in a campaign that killed an estimated 20,000 suspected “dissidents”.
In 2000, he launched controversial land reforms, driving out white farmers and seizing their land. Some white farmers were accused of joining forces with his Western foes in a campaign to topple him using the opposition as a front.
The implementation of controversial land reforms law in 2000 — under which he drove out white farmers and seized their land — saw productive commercial farms redistributed to his cronies, army veterans and family members. The chaotic process plunged the former regional breadbasket into a decade-long crisis, with most rural dwellers relying on food handouts.
Under pressure to end the crushing economic decline, which reduced the exchange rate to nothing and caused inflation to gallop to over 230 million per cent, Mr. Mugabe had entered into an agreement with Mr. Tsvangirai to form a unity government.