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Analysts Assess Stalemate in Zimbabwe Political Talks


Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe says an agreement to resolve Zimbabwe's political, economic and social crises with the establishment of a power-sharing government will be signed this week. But, talks to achieve this have not made much progress since last month. In this background report from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg, VOA's Delia Robertson looks at whether opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has failed to recognize a negotiations stalemate and is in danger of overplaying his hand.

Last month opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai balked at a deal that would make him prime minister, in charge of government business in parliament.

He would be deputy chairperson of the cabinet with the responsibility of formulating government policy and ensuring its implementation. He would effectively be head of government.

President Robert Mugabe would remain in post and also be head of state.

Ministries would be divided with security ministries under the leadership of Mr. Mugabe and the rest reporting to Mr. Tsvangirai. Although he said last month he would settle for a deal that left the security ministries in the hands of the president, he has now rejected that option.

From Mr. Tsvangirai's point of view, the deal is far from ideal. It certainly does not represent the transfer of power demanded by his supporters. But sources close to the talks note he signed an agreement to negotiate a power-sharing deal, not a transfer of power, and they tell VOA there is little hope of winning further concessions from Mr. Mugabe.

University of Johannesburg political analyst Adam Habib tells VOA it is clear the talks are in stalemate and Mr. Tsvangirai may believe he has more leverage than what he has.

"That it is not as if ZANU-PF does not have any cards and it seems to me that the majority MDC has to recognize that there are cards in the hands of ZANU-PF and that this is not the circumstance of a complete overthrow of ZANU-PF, this is not a revolution," he said. "It is a stalemate and it is precisely the stalemate that has mandated these negotiations to emerge."

Habib is among those experts who note that while Mr. Tsvangirai and his party enjoy greater popular support, Mr. Mugabe retains the support of the security establishment, including the police service. They say that creates a situation where, in practical terms, neither group has a clear power advantage.

Some of Mr. Tsvangirai's senior officials privately tell VOA they are very concerned that if he accepts the deal being offered, he will have all the responsibility without the necessary authority. In addition, they say, real control over the country's financial resources is in the hands of reserve bank governor Gideon Gono, who is widely perceived to be very close to Mr. Mugabe.

But with official inflation at more than 11 million percent, the Zimbabwe economy is the fastest contracting economy in the world and it does not have the money to fund the reconstruction and development. That money will likely have to come from donor countries, and Habib says Mr. Tsvangirai is key to that funding.

"The economic reconstruction, addressing the economic crisis in Zimbabwe is impossible to be addressed without Morgan Tsvangirai in some significant role in this government," he said. "None of the international aid is going to materialize without the MDC, at least the majority section of the MDC, being represented in government."

Other analysts argue that if Mr. Tsvangirai is key to international donor funding, the donor countries are also likely to insist that he is key to how their money is spent - thus ensuring that he will indeed have control over the necessary resources needed to carry out government programs.

Sources close to the talks tell VOA that Mr. Tsvangirai and his advisors may also be missing the point of the proposed transitional government of national unity. The goal, they note, is a transition limited to 30 months, during which the country can begin to recover from its political, social and economic crisis; and importantly, prepare for truly legitimate elections at the end of the transition.

They note that this is also the view of Southern Africa Development Community leaders and the regional mediator in the talks, South African President Thabo Mbeki, who believe that it is impossible to hold fair elections in the current environment.

Since the March elections won by the MDC, more than 100 MDC supporters have been killed, thousands injured and tens of thousands displaced in widespread violence. Independent human rights organizations say the perpetrators are overwhelmingly supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF and members of the military and police.

There is a view among some Tsvangirai advisors that he should not settle for anything less than overall executive authority, and Mr. Mugabe's role as president become ceremonial. They argue that as long as the status quo continues, Zimbabwe will continue to deteriorate, resulting in a complete collapse of Mr. Mugabe's government.

But the Director for Research and Advocacy at Solidarity Peace Trust, Brian Raftopoulos, says with Mr. Mugabe in power, the opposite is true.

"My concern is this belief that the deterioration will somehow deliver political change," he said. "Now the problem with that scenario is that the deterioration of the economy can actually deliver worse, you can get a more repressive state, a party that digs in, and we know that this is a party that really does not care about its citizenry; it is prepared to let the situation continue to deteriorate."

Raftopoulos argues that Mr. Tsvangirai should take the initiative and seek a compromise that will bring a transitional government into being.

"So I think that we really do need to find a compromise and I think that is absolutely necessary," he said. "And even if as the opposition, as the civics, [we think] the agreement does not deliver everything we want, we should see it as a first stage in a longer battle."

Both Habib and Raftopoulos argue that once in government Mr. Tsvangirai will be in a position to vigorously manage the situation to ensure that he and his party move to a position of control and authority.

Raftopoulos suggests it is about capacity. "Well, the biggest challenge will be the capacity to deal with the institutions of the state and to be able to wield the powers within the state in whatever areas they have the most authority in order to deliver policy changes," he said.

"So it is a question of capacity, capacity of the MDC to be able to take up positions in the state and to be able to fight for the delivery of those policies which will begin to shift the balance of political power away from ZANU-PF," he added.

Habib notes that South Africa faced exactly the same challenges and uncertainties before the election that brought Nelson Mandela to power in 1994. In particular there was real concern that the military would seek to undermine the new democracy. Habib says it took just a few years to bring the military and other key departments firmly within the control of the new government.