Impeachment proceedings were set to begin in Zimbabwe on Tuesday against President Robert Mugabe.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was dismissed earlier this month, urged the 93-year-old head of state to heed demands for his resignation, days after he was dismissed as head of the ruling ZANU-PF party.
He must acknowledge Zimbabwe’s "insatiable desire" for a leadership change and resign immediately, urged Mnangagwa.
"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 and resign forthwith so that the country can move forward and preserve his legacy," Mnangagwa said in his statement.
Mnangagwa, who fled the country and has not appeared in public during the past week's political turmoil, said Mugabe had invited him to return to Zimbabwe "for a discussion" on recent events.
However, he said he will not return for now, alleging that there had been plans to kill him at the time of his firing.
"I will be returning as soon as the right conditions for security and stability prevail," said Mnangagwa, who has a loyal support base in the military. "Never should the nation be held at ransom by one person ever again, whose desire is to die in office at whatever cost to the nation."
Mugabe spent nearly four decades in power, evolving from a champion of the fight against white minority rule into a figure blamed for a collapsing economy, government dysfunction and human rights violations.
The ZANU-PF party was poised to begin impeachment proceedings against Mugabe after its Central Committee voted to oust the president as party leader and select Mnangagwa as his replacement. This move could eventually allow the former vice president to become head of state.
Mnangagwa served for decades as Mugabe's enforcer, with a reputation for being astute and ruthless, more feared than popular.
Zimbabwe's polarizing first lady, Grace Mugabe, had been positioning herself to succeed her husband, leading a party faction that engineered Mnangagwa's ouster.
The prospect of a dynastic succession alarmed the military, which confined Mugabe to his home last week and targeted what it called "criminals" around him who allegedly were looting state resources — a reference to associates of the first lady.
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.
Mnangagwa was targeted by US sanctions in the early 2000s for undermining democratic development in Zimbabwe, according to the Atlantic Council, a US-based policy institute. However, J. Peter Pham, an Africa expert at the council, noted that some Zimbabwean opposition figures have appeared willing to have dialogue with Mnangagwa in order to move the country forward and that the international community should consider doing the same.
Mugabe meanwhile 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”.
Impeachment proceedings were expected to start with the resumption of parliament on Tuesday, days after huge crowds surged through the capital, Harare, to demand that Mugabe quit. The ruling party instructed government ministers to boycott Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
It was not clear how long the impeachment process could take.
The ruling party has said Mugabe could be voted out as early as Wednesday but some analysts believe the impeachment process could take weeks and would, if conducted properly, allow Mugabe to make a case in his defense.