BOSTON — Voicing “disgust” with President Robert Mugabe for his “betrayal” of Zimbabwe’s coalition government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai Thursday announced his MDC party will not recognize a string of senior appointments.
Tsvangirai’s action threatens Zimbabwe’s already shaky power-sharing government. His criticism will strengthen the resolve of the United States and European donors to maintain sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle.
Charging that Mugabe broke the power-sharing agreement and Zimbabwe’s constitution by making key appointments without any consultation, Tsvangirai said he will stay in the government but he and his party will not cooperate with Mugabe’s appointees.
"We will refuse to recognize any of the appointments which the president has made illegally and unconstitutionally over the past 18 months," said Tsvangirai at a press conference in Harare.
The disputed appointments include the central bank governor, the attorney general, five High Court and Supreme Court judges, six ambassadors, the police service commission and 10 provincial governors, who were re-appointed last week.
Mugabe did not respond immediately to Tsvangirai’s statement, but Zimbabwe’s state-owned press acts as ther president’s mouthpiece and is expected to launch a vitriolic attack on the prime minister.
Tsvangirai also accused Mugabe of racism for refusing to swear into office Roy Bennett, who has been appointed Deputy Minister of Agriculture. Bennett, a senior Tsvangiral ally, was recently acquitted of treason, but Mugabe has adamantly denied Bennett his office.
"The matter of Roy Bennett has now become a personal vendetta and part of a racist agenda," Tsvangirai said. Bennett, a white farmer whose land was violently seized by Mugabe, is wildly popular amongst Tsvangirai’s black supporters, something that infuriates Mugabe.
Tsvangirai said his decision not to do business with Mugabe’s senior appointees throws Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government into a “constitutional crisis.” He urged the leaders of neighboring states to press Mugabe to reform.
Tsvangirai called on the leaders of the Southern African Development Community, a 15-nation regional bloc, to pressure Mugabe to abide by the agreement that formed the coalition government. The SADC leaders pressed Tsvangirai to share power with Mugabe 18 months ago, after a disputed election in which Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe in the first round. Now Tsvangirai is asking them to put pressure on Mugabe.
For a year Tsvangirai, 58, has diplomatically avoided attacking Mugabe, 86, in the hopes that the two rival leaders could govern together. Tsvangirai even voiced some praise for the veteran Mugabe’s leadership in the fight against white minority Rhodesia.
But Tsvangirai became frustrated by Mugabe’s iron grip on power. Tsvangirai’s supporters in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have also chafed under Mugabe’s continued rule. Many have continued to be harassed, beaten and arrested on spurious charges, according to human rights groups.
One of Tsvangirai’s supporters was killed last month when Mugabe’s followers attacked a public meeting on a new constitution. The process of drafting a new constitution has been thrown into disarray by the attacks by Mugabe’s followers.
Zimbabwe is scheduled to have fresh elections in 2011 and observers fear Mugabe will unleash a new round of repression, violence and torture against Tsvangirai’s supporters.
Tsvangirai criticized Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, for its lack of respect for the rule of law and its use of violence.
"As we have seen so many times, ZANU-PF is determined to tell citizens what they should think, and to intimidate, bully and beat up any who disagree," Tsvangirai said. "This goes against the fundamental principles of democracy, and is utterly abhorrent to me."
Earlier this year Tsvangirai traveled to the United States and Europe to urge Western donor nations to lift sanctions against Mugabe and his closest cronies.
“All Zimbabweans know that Mr Mugabe and his colleagues brought the restrictive measures on themselves through the flagrant abuses of human rights and the economic disaster which they inflicted on this country,” said Tsvangirai. “All Zimbabweans know that these restrictive measures are the result, not the cause of that economic disaster. They know that these restrictive measures affect the individuals concerned, not the country as a whole, as the economic turnaround since my party joined the government has shown.”
Tsvangirai’s criticism is expected to bolster the resistance of the West to give financial support to Mugabe’s regime.
Tsvangirai highlighted the issues that he will campaign on in the upcoming elections. He vowed to “turn Zimbabwe into a country ruled by the law, not by decree. When it comes to pursuing these principles and these goals, no amount of dishonesty, insincerity, intimidation, or abuse will move me. You can count on me to ensure that you will be able to participate in a free and fair election to choose who should lead your country.”