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S. Africa's Mbeki Urges Mugabe to Establish National Unity

South African President Thabo Mbeki is trying to persuade political leaders in Zimbabwe, especially President Robert Mugabe, to establish a government of national unity in that country.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is working to find a solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe, following a presidential election widely denounced as deeply flawed. His immediate hurdle is to persuade President Robert Mugabe to invite opposition leader Morgan Tsvangerai to form a government of national unity.

Chris Landsberg of the Institute for International Affairs Johannesburg says there are several reasons for suggesting a coalition government at this juncture. Not least of them, he says, is that, even within Zimbabwe, there is a perception that Mr. Mugabe and his ruling ZANU PF party are illegitimate.

"ZANU PF is just too discredited, both at home, regionally and abroad to be allowed to do it alone," he said. "So, if for only purely survival reasons, Mbeki believes, we need an interim arrangement. Secondly, you need it for stability purposes. You need to stabilize that country. And if you, thirdly, want the goodwill of the international community, you need to have a new regime in place that goes beyond Robert Mugabe."

Mr. Landsberg says a coalition government should not be open-ended, and should be created with the intention of achieving specific goals - such as establishing term limits for future presidents. He says there are other important goals that can, and should, be attained in a limited period of two to three years.

"You need to go beyond the competitive Westminster system, where, whoever wins can do as he pleases," he said. "And above all else, you now go and put in place the structures and institutions of accountability, where leaders and governments can be held accountable in Zimbabwe in future."

Mr. Landsberg says there is a strong chance that the ruling ZANU PF party will support the concept of a national unity government because, he says, having defied the international community, the party now faces complete isolation and punitive action from Western countries.

"I'm least worried about ZANU PF," Mr. Landsberg said. "They have their backs against the wall. They were bravados, they talked the tough talk prior to the elections, they defied everybody. But I suggest to you that they don't want to see sanctions. Even though they defied the world, they are desperate. And, I think, they're actually amenable to a plan, if not desperate for a plan, a bailout plan, quite frankly."

But even if the ruling party agrees to Mr. Mbeki's proposals, he must still win the support of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai. In anticipation of winning the election, Mr. Tsvangirai offered a national unity government. Now, however, he says he rejects the idea. And, says Mr. Landsberg, it is particularly Mr. Tsvangirai's supporters who might not see any benefit in a coalition government.

"But if the people at the end of the day don't like what they see, and don't like the idea that people are speaking on their behalf after a rigged election, and they want to march on President Mugabe, and they want to try and force him out through what I call the Leipzig option - the mass protest option that could turn violent, then these things will come to very little in the end," he said. "And, I think, we have to make that caveat absolutely clear."

Mr. Landsberg says the international community can be expected to support any proposal that offers some hope of moving Zimbabwe and its people back from the brink of disaster. But he says Mr. Mbeki has limited time to achieve what, to many, seems an impossible task.