The ruling party in Zimbabwe has given Robert Mugabe until noon on Monday to resign as president or face impeachment by parliament.
In an extraordinary meeting in Harare, the capital, on Sunday morning more than 200 Zanu-PF leaders voted to sack Mugabe as the party’s leader and demanded that the 93 year old “resign forthwith from his position as head of state”.
The move by his own party significantly weakens the position of Mugabe, who has refused to step down following a military takeover last week, despite huge demonstrations in cities across the country on Saturday demanding that he leaves power.
Mugabe has argued that the military takeover is an illegal coup and appears to be hoping that this will trigger regional intervention, sources familiar with his negotiations with the military said.
Zimbabwe’s parliament will reconvene on Tuesday after a week-long suspension and will launch impeachment proceedings immediately if the president has not resigned, MPs said.
The procedure is unprecedented, and it is unclear how long it might take.
Zanu-PF also expelled Grace Mugabe, the divisive first lady, and twenty of her closest associates.
When the motion was passed, removing Mugabe from the head of the party and appointing Emmerson Mnangagwa to replace him, the hall of Zanu-PF delegates broke into cheers, song and dance.
The 200 or so members of the central committee leapt to their feet, many singing Mnangagwa’s name.
“This is the day that is defining the new birth and development of our country,” said Mike Madiro, chairman of one of the provincial party branches that had formally set Mugabe’s dethroning in motion.
Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the powerful war veterans’ association, said Mugabe was running out of time to negotiate his departure and should leave the country while he could.
“We are going all the way,” Mutsvangwa said. “He’s trying to bargain for a dignified exit.”
The Zanu-PF central committee appointed Mnangagwa, the 75-year-old vice-president who was fired by Mugabe almost two weeks ago, as its new interim leader.
Mugabe’s sacking of Mnangagwa precipitated the crisis, with Mnangagwa and the army rapidly launching a previously planned takeover.
Mnangagwa is widely expected to take power when Mugabe leaves office.
A second round of talks on Sunday morning between Mugabe and the army commanders who led the takeover was inconclusive.
In photos posted on the website of the state TV network, Mugabe was shown in a dark suit and tie and standing behind a wooden desk at State House as he shook hands with a procession of generals and the chief of police. Beside him was a television tuned in to Al-Jazeera.
According to sources close to the military, the president, who has been kept under house arrest in his sprawling residence in Harare, continues to argue that the takeover is illegal and wants to be allowed to remain in power until the end of his presidential mandate next year. Elections are due to be held before August.
The purge has effectively destroyed the “G40” faction within the party and underlines the degree to which the overthrow of Mugabe’s 37 year rule has been driven more by competition for power within the Zanu-PF than popular anger at a dictatorial and corrupt regime.
Grace Mugabe, 52, has not been seen since the takeover. Sources told the Guardian she was in her husband’s Harare residence when he was detained on Tuesday and has not moved since.
Since taking power, the military has arrested about a dozen senior officials and ministers. Several remain detained. Two senior politicians close to the first lady are believed to have taken refuge with their families in the president’s residence on the night of the military takeover.
Few options are now open to Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe through a mixture of coercion, bribery and revolutionary rhetoric. Support in some branches of the security establishment – such as the police – has evaporated.
Observers say the veteran politician is hoping to oblige the military to depose him by force, which could theoretically trigger an intervention by regional powers.
The South African Development Community (SADC), headed by South Africa, is to meet in Angola on Tuesday to discuss the situation.
Last week the SADC called for a “constitutional” solution to the crisis, which was understood by some to be a call for the military to allow Mugabe to serve out his current electoral mandate as president. Polls are due by August 2018.
The military has said it has no intention of staying in power but has made it clear that there is little chance of Mugabe remaining in office.
Army commanders have long had good relations with Mnangagwa, a former intelligence chief and veteran Zanu-PF official who was responsible for the repression of opposition parties in successive elections between 2000 and 2008.
The role of Obert Mpofu, the finance minister long seen as a loyal associate of Mugabe who had substantially benefited from his rule, as chairman of the Zanu-PF meeting on Sunday prompted widespread comment. Mpofu said the “outgoing president” had been surrounded by “wrong people”.
His words echoed those of the military commanders who claim last week’s takeover was necessary to remove “criminals” close to the president, a reference to Grace Mugabe and her “G40” faction.
Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe have called for the formation of an inclusive transitional government but risk being sidelined by the powerful army and Zanu-PF.
There are also concerns that the military will maintain significant influence in the future.
“The ruling party have allowed the military to taste political power [and] … We have to expect some role of the armed forces to continue for some time,” said Martin Rupiya, a former Zimbabwean army general.