By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Optimism has been growing in African Zimbabwe that a deal would be reached very soon between the ruling party and oppositions and find an amicable solution to the enduring political stalemate. Talks are under way in Zimbabwe to try to finalize a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Reports in some South African papers say a deal is close, and that a final agreement could be reached shortly. For the two men to achieve a power-sharing deal will be no easy matter, as they share nothing but a mutual loathing.
Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai‘s MDC began talking more than two weeks ago to resolve a crisis that came to a head after the 84-year-old Mugabe was re-elected in a widely condemned June poll boycotted by the opposition. Mugabe and Tsvangirai were said to have been in contact several times during the talks to seek common ground on the delicate issue of power and positions. President Robert Mugabe’s spokesman said on 09 July talks between Zimbabwe‘s ruling party and the opposition had reached a milestone, but he declined to comment on whether a power-sharing deal was imminent.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has said that 14 hours of talks in Harare with the opposition on power-sharing between ruling and opposition parties have ended inconclusively. One widely touted solution is that Mugabe, the Zanu-PF leader, may become ceremonial president while Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), becomes executive prime minister.
There were strong suggestions a deal was blocked earlier this year because their concerns had not been addressed. This time round it is proposed that there would be two deputy prime ministers Military for one and police for another. The two sides are under heavy pressure to resolve a deepening crisis that has ruined the once prosperous economy and flooded neighboring states with millions of refugees. Even if the two sides manage to reach a settlement, investors are likely to remain cautious, seeking signs of long-term political stability and sound management that will help rescue the shattered economy. Any deal would require a green light from security and military chiefs, powerful figures with wide sway over Mugabe who wants to make sure they are not vulnerable to international prosecution when the political dust settles.
Assuming a deal can be achieved, the next question is how the senior figures in the country’s security apparatus – the military and police – can be accommodated. This time round it is proposed that there would be two deputy prime ministers: one – to be occupied by the ruling Zanu-PF(defense portfolio)the other, for the MDC, would take the (Police. Fort-folio) and if this is acceptable to all sides, then other issues are seen as less important.
South African President Thabo Mbeki is acting as mediator at the talks, which are taking place in a Harare hotel. Mbeki has been mediating negotiations between the two sides in neighboring South Africa. Zimbabwean government spokesman George Charamba described Mbeki’s visit to Harare as an “important milestone”. He said the South African president was “going to meet the principals, basically to update them on the progress so far and to consult on how to take the dialogue forward”. South African mediators say that talks are aimed at creating some form of coalition but there is disagreement over who would lead a unity government and over Mugabe’s exact role. For the two men to achieve a power-sharing deal will be no easy matter, as they share nothing but a mutual loathing.
There was a strong report that a deal was blocked earlier this year because their concerns had not been addressed. Talks began last month in the aftermath of Mugabe’s unopposed re-election in June in a poll condemned throughout the world and boycotted by Tsvangirai because of attacks on his supporters. Mugabe said the talks would continue later on Monday, adding he was “confident” a deal could be reached. The talks would continue on Monday the 11 August. Monday is Heroes’ Day in Zimbabwe, honoring those who died in the 1970s guerrilla war against white minority rule. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai declined to comment as he left the hotel following the meeting. The talks bring together Mugabe and Tsvangirai, as well as Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a smaller MDC faction.
Mbeki has come under criticism at home and abroad for not taking a tough line with Mugabe, a policy he argues would backfire and aggravate tensions. Zimbabwe mediator South African President Thabo Mbeki arrived in Harare on August 09 and met with both sides at weekend talks. “This is an important milestone that has been registered in the inter-party dialogue,” Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba told state media without giving details. Mugabe and Tsvangirai would hold make-or-break talks to finalize a deal in Harare on 10 July. Mugabe said on Thursday the talks were going well but dismissed as nonsense media reports about a draft agreement under which Tsvangirai would run the country as prime minister while Mugabe would become ceremonial president.
Bitter Political Rivalry
Mugabe won a run-off presidential election in June after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out because of a campaign of violence against his supporters.
One widely touted solution is that Mugabe, the Zanu-PF leader, may become ceremonial president while Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, is made executive prime minister. But there has been no official comment on these reports, apart from statements from all sides that the talks have been progressing well.
Last month, the two rivals agreed to hold crisis talks after meeting for the first time in a decade. Tsvangirai won the first round of Zimbabwe‘s presidential poll in March, but official results gave him less than the 50% needed for an outright victory.
Subsequently, the opposition said that more than 120 of its supporters had been killed, some 5,000 abducted and 200,000 forced to flee their homes after being attacked by Zanu-PF militias and security agents. The government blames the MDC for the violence.
Zimbabwe‘s ruling and opposition parties have issued a joint call for an end to post-election violence. A statement called on supporters and members “to stop and desist” the perpetration of violence in any form. President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have been holding crisis talks in South Africa. The parties have been trying to negotiate a power-sharing deal. A two-week deadline to complete the talks passed last week without any news of a deal. The appeal came as the Star newspaper in South Africa said a draft agreement was being circulated under which Tsvangirai would run Zimbabwe as prime minister and Mugabe would serve as a ceremonial president. The South African talks have been held at a secret location and are subject to a media blackout.
Zimbabweans and neighboring countries hope an agreement could end years of political turmoil and revive an economy whose collapse has led millions of people to leave Zimbabwe. Investors are nevertheless likely to remain cautious about making financial commitments, seeking tangible signs of long-term political stability and a government with the credentials to rebuild the country.
Zimbabwe‘s economy has been crippled by hyperinflation that has left people struggling to buy basic goods and food. Mugabe blames the West for the economic problems of Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have warned of a growing food crisis in Zimbabwe. It said two million people were short of food because of poor harvests and economic collapse, and warned that the figure could rise to five million by early next year. A spokesman for the federation said that such a figure would represent about 45% of Zimbabwe‘s population. “It is a very worrying situation and it really could develop into a humanitarian catastrophe unless action is taken as quickly as possible and as effectively as possible,” he said. The federation is appealing for $26m (£13m) to help deal with the crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have fled the country’s worsening political and economic situation, many crossing over the borders into neighboring states of South Africa, Zambia and Botswana. In a message to mark Zimbabwe’s liberation war heroes holidays opposition leader Mutambara attacked Western powers, which have backed the opposition against Mugabe, accusing them of interfering in Zimbabwe’s affairs. Botswana’s foreign minister suggested that Mugabe should be barred from the Sadc summit.
Mugabe’s position was not negotiable. A ZANU-PF official said a breakthrough was achieved when the MDC agreed to recognize Mugabe’s legitimacy as president. ZANU-PF had agreed on Tsvangirai as prime minister, but “not in the sense” of media reports which have said he will be given executive powers while Mugabe becomes a ceremonial president.
Sunday’s negotiations are seen as make or break, with diplomats warning that until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed. For South African President Thabo Mbeki, the success of the talks is a challenge. Mbeki is under pressure to produce a solid outcome ahead of a mid-August summit of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc). Helping to secure a settlement before he hosts a summit in South Africa on August 16 of regional leaders Mbeki has represented in the mediation could be a political coup for Mbeki.
A deal could mean Mugabe has survived elections that posed the biggest challenge to his rule, but might also remove some of the power that has allowed him to govern with an iron hand. Both sides are under pressure to reach a deal. A deal would require approval from security and military chiefs, powerful figures with broad influence over Mugabe who want to make sure they are not vulnerable to international prosecution when the political dust settles.
Should an agreement be reached, it could take at least two weeks to convene parliament and push through expected constitutional changes creating new government posts and implement other aspects of the deal.
Mbeki is keen to help the parties to clinch the issue that would enable him to face the August 16 summit in South Africa of regional leaders boldly with good message for the members. A positive result would improve his image as a pro-African leader and not just a pro-Mugabe as he has been seen all these days. A settled political scene in the country would make Zimbabwe to concentrate on economic issues that require urgent attention and remedial measures.