President Robert Mugabe has publicly admonished the leadership of his ruling ZANU-PF not to fall out among themselves over his succession, telling them they are "free to throw their hats into the ring" on condition they do not create intra-party divisions.
The 82-year-old president and party leader expressed confidence that the leadership of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front could handle the issue.
But insiders said factionalism is fracturing the party down to the grass roots.
ZANU-PF brass are also jostling to replace first vice president Joseph Msika, 83, who is reportedly in poor health and expected to step down before too long.
In a related development, ZANU-PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira backed off from statements he made last week saying the anticipated 2008 presidential ballot would be postponed until 2010. The suggestion generated intense criticism from administration critics and the opposition. Shamuyarira said his comments were misinterpreted.
But influential ZANU-PF youths and some war veterans want Mr. Mugabe to stay on after 2008. Party Deputy Youth Secretary Saviour Kasukuwere told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that youth backs the current leadership.