parliament election in Zimbabwe, mdc wins key parliament vote
Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, right, with new Prime Minster, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Power-Sharing Talks Still Shaky in Zimbabwe

January 19, 2009 04:15 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Zimbabwean political leaders Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai are trying to create a unified government based on a power-sharing agreement signed months ago, but the likelihood of success remains uncertain.

Power-Sharing to Succeed or Fail This Week

It's been four months since Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) signed a power-sharing arrangement for the country's government. But agreeing on how to unify the government has not come easily.

In fact, The New York Times reported that Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the "prime minister in waiting," conceded that the deal will either succeed or fail in talks taking place today.

There has been bickering as Tsvangirai accused Mugabe of "grabbing all key ministries such as defense, information, foreign affairs, finance and home affairs," CNN explained. MDC chairman Nelson Chamisa was quoted as saying, the group would not "commit political suicide" by entering "positions of authority without the attendant and consequent power to enable us to deliver on change, food and jobs."

The future of the agreement seems dismal, as "a senior MDC official" reported that discussions had "completely broken down and suggested the power sharing talks were doomed to fail," according to SW Radio Africa. The MDC said it wants the situation resolved either way this week.

Mugabe could form his own government if talks fail, but leadership may not be easy after that. His opposition could stop him from passing a budget or creating legislation, The New York Times explained.

Violent Conflict Thwarts Progress

In November 2008, the main opposition party in Zimbabwe said the nation's ruling party had initiated "a new wave of violence," which halted power-sharing talks. According to the Voice of America, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accused ruling party ZANU-PF militiamen of carrying out violent attacks against opposition supporters, "setting up ... torture bases" in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

In response, leaders of southern African nations called for a summit to be held, at which they would pressure Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai "to end their feud on forming a unity government," reported Agence France-Presse.

A similar meeting was held in late October 2008, when Zimbabwe's neighboring countries attempted to "resolve the ... power-sharing impasse." The summit was attended by Mugabe, Tsvangirai and leaders of the SADC, and mediated by former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, reported The Washington Post.

In September, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe agreed to share rule of the country with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, but in early October suggested that Tsvangirai and his MDC play only a junior role in the government. The agreement is now stuck in a stalemate, as the two leaders are unable to agree. The two have continued wrangling over cabinet posts, and more mediation will likely be necessary, according to Reuters.

Background: The tentative agreement and power-sharing talks

The BBC reported that the initial terms of the agreement were that Tsvangirai would become prime minister and chair a council of ministers, and Mugabe, who has led the country for 28 years, would remain president and head the cabinet.

But some of the plan was still vague. When Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the MDC, was asked who would head the government, he did not name either man but replied, “This is an inclusive government,” the International Herald Tribune reports.

Some specifics were leaked, however. Mugabe was named to control the armed forces, while Tsvangirai would be in charge of the police, according to BBC correspondent Adam Mynott.

Peace talks originally began in July, following
months of political violence that stemmed from the country’s disputed presidential elections in March. Many wondered if the talks would ever result in a deal, as the two rival factions continued to feud.

When MDC chairman Lovemore Moyo was voted speaker of parliament in August, winning with 110 votes over Paul Themba Nyathi, a candidate from a smaller faction of the MDC, reports stated that Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF party did not put forward a candidate, had backed the rival MDC faction. The BBC reported that Mugabe’s move “was a tactic to try and engineer control of parliament, which has backfired.”

Opinion & Analysis: How will the deadlock be resolved?

With Mugabe claiming that there are no problems and the MDC calling for help, it seems unclear how the deadlock will be resolved if the two leaders cannot even agree that there is one.

James Kirchick of The Wall Street Journal warned in a recent opinion piece that “sharing power just isn’t something Mugabe does.” He compares the recent events in Zimbabwe to those of nearly 30 years ago when Zimbabwe was still the British colony of Rhodesia. Mugabe threatened to kill anyone who participated in the country’s first multiracial election, which gave whites 28 out of 100 parliamentary seats.

Still, at the end of September, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was hopeful that the two rivals would put an end to the deadlock in the upcoming days. Although the opposition party was willing to let Mugabe take control of the army, they were against his keeping control of internal affairs such as “police, finance, foreign affairs, justice, information and local government,” Reuters reported. Tsvangirai still had faith in recently resigned South African President Mbeki's ability to moderate the agreement. He told a news conference, "If there are political problems, that's why we have a leadership forum to resolve those issues.”

Mbeki, despite his forced resignation, will likely play a key role in breaking the stalemate, as leaders reached out to him and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Wednesday. “If there is anything that needs to be discussed with Zimbabwe, there are channels, and the only channel is through the facilitator," an SADC spokesperson told AFP. He has been the mediator for the duration of the process, but his spokesperson said that the SADC would have to officially state that he was still the mediator post-resignation. The MDC seems eager to continue reliance on Mbeki, and his spokesperson said, “President Mbeki will participate in any process that is aimed at taking the African continent a step forward.”

Seemingly supporting Kirchick's claim that Mugabe would be unable to share power, however, the ruling party claims that no further mediation is required. In fact, Patrick Chinamasa, chief negotiator for the ruling ZANU-PF, denies that there is any need for outside assistance. He told AFP, “Anyone who says there is a deadlock is being mischievous. There is commitment on all of us to make things work.”

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