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Despite Turmoil in Zimbabwe Unity Government, Some See Multi-Year Lifespan


Though the national unity government amalgamating Zimbabwe's former opposition Movement for Democratic Change with the longtime ruling ZANU-PF party was looking shakier than ever on Monday, some ZANU-PF officials have been saying it could stay in place longer than the two years most in the MDC have been giving as its probable life span.

A top official of the dominant MDC formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai warned that it was the party's "constitutional right to consider disengagement" from the government over issues including President Robert Mugabe's rescheduling of a Tuesday cabinet meeting to Monday so he could chair the session before leaving for an African Union summit.

The MDC took this as a slight to Mr. Tsvangirai, who would otherwise have occupied the cabinet chair while Mr. Mugabe attended the AU summit in Libya.

Given Khupe's language and a contentious backdrop in recent days, this appeared to be the most serious intra-governmental dispute since the government was formed in February.

But only last week a top ZANU-PF official indicated that he saw the possibility that the unity government might continue through to the end of its nominal five-year term.

Meeting last week with journalists in Chinhoyi, Mashonaland West, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said putting a new constitution in place could take several years whereas the parliamentary timetable for holding a referendum on a draft targets October 2010.

Many in Zimbabwe expect that would set the stage for a new round of elections.

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador James McGee said last week in an interview with VOA that talk of the unity government lasting for four or five years was "wrong-minded."

Nonetheless, the Mass Public Opinion Institute of Zimbabwe said 29% of Zimbabweans polled in a recent survey said they would like to see the unity government last five years or more.

The non-governmental institute said 42% of respondents said they wanted the government to stay in place three years or more. But 44% said they'd like a change of government after 24 months or less - and of those 23% said they wanted to see a change in 12 months.

Independent political analyst Rejoice Ngwenya told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that elections should be held within the next two years so the country can break out of the current political "paralysis" by defining clearly who is in charge.

Despite the turmoil inside the government, 80% of those surveyed by the institute support the unity government and rate its capacity as "good" in addressing problems and issues from the cholera epidemic to educational needs and health services.

But the government received "good" ratings from less than half of those surveyed on its ability to create jobs and maintain steady supplies of food and electric power.

Eighty-one percent said they were optimistic the unity government will resolve the crises facing Zimbabwe. Only 12 percent were pessimistic. Of those surveyed, 80% said the inclusive government has had a positive impact on their lives.

Some 48 percent of those responding described current economic conditions as "very bad" or "bad," 41% said they were "fair," and only 11% described them as "good."

But more than 70% said they had seen an improvement in the economy, social services and living standards, among other aspects of life in the country.

Regarding the political climate, 77% said there was less violence or no violence at all in their communities, and 66% said they felt free to express themselves without fear of reprisals.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...

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