Zimbabwe's power-sharing government moved closer to outright crisis on Monday as the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted a weekly cabinet meeting which President Robert Mugabe ordered moved up from Tuesday so he could chair it before heading off to an African Union summit in Libya.
Tensions in the so-called inclusive government have risen in recent weeks as Mr. Tsvangirai traveled from one Western capital to another to formally initiate re-engagement after years of chilly relations and to seek funding for his government. Western leaders cordially welcomed Mr. Tsvangirai but did not conceal their distaste for his partners in government, indicating funding would depend on restoration of human rights and the rule of law.
The MDC said that moving up the cabinet meeting amounted to a declaration of no confidence in Mr. Tsvangirai. It said he should have been called upon to chair the meeting Tuesday in Mr. Mugabe's absence, though adding that many other issues contributed to the decision.
Protesting what she called a "persistent and corrosive culture of unilateralism" on the part of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe of the Tsvangirai MDC deplored the failure resolve long-outstanding issues and "persistent abuse of the rule of law" in the arrest and prosecution of MDC lawmakers and activists by ZANU-PF officials.
In her two-page statement, Khupe said the MDC remained "fundamentally committed" to the Global Political Agreement - the September 2008 power-sharing pact - but added that it was her party's "constitutional right to consider disengagement" from the government.
Despite the boycott, ZANU-PF ministers and those of the smaller MDC formation of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara attended the cabinet meeting Monday morning.
An official source present at that meeting said Mr. Mugabe was "calm and did not seem to care about the boycott by the Tsvangirai formation."
Formed in February by ZANU-PF and the two MDC formations to resolve a political stalemate following the contested 2008 presidential election in which Mr. Mugabe claimed victory, the unity government has been troubled from the start with the Tsvangirai MDC formation alleging ZANU-PF non-compliance with the terms of the 2008 agreement.
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Tsvangirai MDC formation told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the formation refrained from the cabinet meeting because it was not consulted over the rescheduling.
Reached by VOA, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a close Mugabe associate and lead negotiator in 2008 power-sharing negotiations, declined to comment.
Political analyst John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe professor, said the MDC statement was long overdue and showed the government is more fragile than many believed.
Makumbe told reporter Sandra Nyaira that Mr. Tsvangirai's party should keep pressure on Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF to adhere to the terms of the political agreement. More news from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...