Mr. Mnangagwa’s words, as well as his continued absence, appeared to be part of an effort by his allies to distance him from last week’s military intervention and to portray it as a reflection of the popular will. The army stepped in two days after the president attempted to arrest the country’s top military commander, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, a close ally of Mr. Mnangagwa.
The military takeover was the climax of a long-running feud between two party factions that pitted a handful of individuals against one another. But to build legitimacy for a new government led by Mr. Mnangagwa, his allies are seeking to subsume his role under the genuine popular anger directed at Mr. Mugabe and his refusal to step down.
At least a semblance of legitimacy — especially for a government under Mr. Mnangagwa, who is known as the Crocodile and as the enforcer of some of Mr. Mugabe’s most ruthless policies — will be critical in gaining recognition from regional powers, Western governments and international lenders. Zimbabwe, which no longer has its own currency and perennially struggles to pay government workers, became a pariah in the West after the state-backed invasion of white-owned farms in the early 2000s.
Mr. Mnangagwa’s role as the likely successor to Mr. Mugabe has engendered some skepticism.
“He is now saying it is important to be part and parcel of what the people are saying when the people’s voices have been ignored so far,” said Okay Machisa, the executive director of ZimRights, a human rights group.
Lawmakers from the ruling ZANU-PF party, in discussions with the opposition, were struggling to find the right balance between two competing goals: removing Mr. Mugabe as quickly as possible while following the rule of law.
Politicians allied with Mr. Mnangagwa, who was voted the leader of ZANU-PF on Sunday, have vowed to impeach Mr. Mugabe in just a day or two by using the party’s overwhelming dominance in Parliament. But others warn that would amount to a kangaroo court.
According to Zimbabwe’s Constitution, a president can be removed for serious misconduct, violating the Constitution or “inability to perform the functions of the office because of physical or mental incapacity.” Committees must investigate and present evidence. Finally, Parliament can impeach the president with at least two-thirds of the votes in each of the two legislative chambers.
Greg Linington, a constitutional law expert at the University of Zimbabwe, said that the Constitution did not stipulate a time frame for impeachment, and that a thorough process could take weeks or months. Mr. Mugabe should be given the right to reply and time to prepare, Mr. Linington said.
“It’s important to get this right,” he said. “Suppose they don’t do it properly and later on Mugabe brings a court application challenging the way the procedure was done.”
Rushed proceedings could also taint a new government under Mr. Mnangagwa who, in his statement, promised a “new era” in which corruption was not tolerated.
“If we want to build a society that respects human rights and follows our Constitution, we need to make sure that all citizens, including the president, have the right to a fair trial,” said Rashid Mahiya, the executive director of Heal Zimbabwe, a human rights group. “Otherwise, this would be a big mistake for the precedent it sets.”
Many Zimbabweans interviewed in central Harare said that Mr. Mugabe did not deserve the right to reply in his defense.
“Mugabe has no right to challenge impeachment,” said Cyphas Ton’a, 53, a taxi driver. “He must just go and stay home. He wants to rule the country until when?”
But Allan Musvetu, 30, a ZANU-PF supporter, said that Mr. Mugabe should be allowed to defend himself because he was “a father figure” to the nation. Mr. Mugabe led Zimbabwe’s independence movement, and has been the country’s only president since it achieved nationhood in 1980.
“The voice of a child and a father are different because the father commands authority,” Mr. Musvetu said. “He must be given the right to reply because he is a father.”
In keeping with efforts to minimize the backlash against last week’s intervention, the military allowed Mr. Mugabe to try to convene a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning. In a surreal scene, just five ministers turned up as 17 others attended impeachment meetings.