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Opinion: Zimbabwe's power-sharing government under threat

Negotiations stall as Mugabe stiffens position and Tsvangirai calls for new elections.

Issues outstanding include Mugabe’s refusal to swear in to office MDC treasurer Roy Bennett, currently facing what the MDC regards as trumped up terrorism charges, the appointment of provincial governors from the MDC who Mugabe originally agreed to and then reneged on, the reappointment of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and appointment of Johannes Tomana as attorney general.

Tsvangirai is insisting on his right to chair cabinet meetings when Mugabe is away. He also wants a motorcade similar in size — and presumably noise — to Mugabe’s. A bid by Mugabe to have ministers report to his two vice-presidents instead of to Tsvangirai was last week scuppered after lawyers pointed out this was in blatant violation of the 2008 political agreement between the two sides and constitutional provisions covering the prime minister’s powers.

South African president Jacob Zuma has proposed “parking” the outstanding issues and moving on with what has been agreed, but the MDC has pointed out the dangers posed by Zanu-PF zealots such as Tomana who is persisting with the Bennett trial despite legal embarrassment at every turn.

In reaction to the latest political stalemate, the MDC is now taking the outstanding issues back to the Southern African Development Community, the regional body that has oversight of the talks.

“But it won’t end there,” Zimbabwe Independent assistant editor Dumisani Muleya says. “Senior party (MDC) officials are behind closed doors now mulling over other options, including disengagement yet again, which might deteriorate into complete withdrawal from the government if matters come to a head.”

Senior MDC officials are livid over what Zanu-PF is doing, Muleya says, and some are beginning to seriously consider the option of pulling out despite the fact that they now enjoy the trappings of power.

“They might balk at withdrawal,” Muleya says, “but things are certainly not looking good.”

The problem arises in part from Zanu-PF’s attachment to fossilized ideological mantras. The party said in December that it noted “that the inclusive government brings the party into partnership with ideologically incompatible MDC formations from which it must extricate itself in order to retain its mantle as the only dominant political party that is truly representative and determined to safeguard the aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe.”

This, critics say, clearly shows Zanu-PF is not only delusional but uninterested in seeing the transitional arrangement succeed. Now its negotiators are fulfilling that mandate of disentangling the party from the inclusive government which has so drastically limited Mugabe’s power.

This explains Mugabe's distaste for the current exercise in power-sharing. He may be mollified when the European Union in two weeks is likely to relax some of the sanctions against Zanu-PF-linked companies. But those pertaining to Mugabe himself, his family and immediate entourage are likely to remain.

Last week he relented somewhat, agreeing to appoint highly respected lawyers to head the electoral commission and human rights commission.

Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador to Harare, Charles A. Ray has made it clear that the International Monetary Fund will only restore Zimbabwe’s voting rights when its arrears have been cleared and issues of macro-economic distortions attended to. These have nothing to do with U.S. sanctions, he said.

Mugabe sees the MDC’s role as lifting sanctions against him and his party while he does nothing to effect the root-and-branch democratic surgery the country so badly needs. Once again Mugabe remains the obstacle in the middle of the road that SADC was warned about at the outset. So long as he remains there progress will be glacial.