By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe faced the start of an impeachment process on Tuesday and should heed his people's call to resign, said Emmerson Mnangagwa, the ruling party's candidate to replace him.
ZANU-PF plans to bring the motion in parliament after a Monday noon deadline expired for the 93-year-old leader to step down to end nearly four decades in power.
Mugabe led the country's liberation war and has ruled since independence in 1980 but is seeing the swift erosion of his power. He has won a series of elections but is viewed by many in Africa and beyond as a leader who has crippled his country by holding on to power too long.
Mugabe has shown no sign of resigning. He has called for the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, which would be the first time ministers meet him since last week's military takeover dubbed "Operation Restore Legacy".
Zimbabwe's information minister said on Tuesday he did not know if ministers would attend the cabinet meeting.
"The people of Zimbabwe have spoken with one voice and it is my appeal to President Mugabe that he should take heed of this clarion call ... to resign so that the country can move forward and preserve his legacy," Mnangagwa said in a statement.
The army seized power because Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa to smooth a path to the presidency for his wife Grace, who is unpopular with many Zimbabweans. Reuters reported in September that Mnangagwa was plotting to succeed Mugabe with army backing at the helm of a broad coalition.
The plot posited an interim national unity government that would have the blessing of much of the international community and allow for Zimbabwe's re-engagement with the outside world. Its primary aim was to stabilize its economy.
The former vice president was a key lieutenant to Mugabe for decades and stands accused of participating in repression against Zimbabweans who challenged the leader.
Mnangagwa said he has fled Zimbabwe because of a threat to his life after being purged from the ruling party. He said he had been in contact with Mugabe and invited to return but would not do so until his security could be guaranteed.
"I told the President that I would not return home now until I am satisfied of my personal security, because of the manner and treatment given to me upon being fired," he said in a statement.
Mnangagwa said on Tuesday his desire was to join all Zimbabweans in a "new era" that would rebuild the economy for the benefit of all.
Zimbabwe's top general said on Monday that the army's intervention was progressing well.
In the draft impeachment motion, ZANU-PF - which expelled Mugabe from the party on Sunday - accused him of being a "source of instability", flouting the rule of law and presiding over an "unprecedented economic tailspin" in the last 15 years.
It also said Mugabe had abused his constitutional mandate to favor his wife Grace.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Harare to celebrate the impending downfall of Mugabe, accused by critics of retaining power through terror and election-rigging and of running a once-vibrant economy into the ground.
They expected him to resign within hours. Instead Mugabe dashed their hopes with a bizarre and rambling televised address on Sunday night in which he made no mention of his own fate.
Since last week, Mugabe has been confined to his lavish "Blue Roof" residence in Harare, apart from two trips to State House to meet the generals and one to a university graduation ceremony at which he appeared to fall asleep.
Grace, known as "Gucci Grace" for her alleged fondness for extravagant shopping sprees, and at least two senior members of her "G40" political faction are believed to be holed up in the same compound.
Her stark reversal of fortune was underscored on Monday when the state-run Herald newspaper - which in August proclaimed her "A loving mother of the nation" - ran a piece headlined "Youth League slams 'uncultured' First Lady."
"Grace Mugabe lacked grooming and true motherhood as shown by her foul language," the paper quoted the ZANU-PF's youth wing as saying.
(Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)