The National Democratic Institute, a pro-democracy group, gave one of its highest honors to Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday. NDI's W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award recognizes individuals and groups who have demonstrated a commitment to democracy and human rights.
Mr. Tsvangirai received a standing ovation. He was introduced to the audience by NDI chair Madeleine Albright, who told his story of a man working to overcome many obstacles.
"The essence of free government is that when one set of policies is not working, an alternative can be considered,” she said. “But when democracy has been subverted, presenting that alternative requires courage, persistence and faith. Fortunately, Mr. Tsvangirai possesses each of these qualities. His character is steady and strong."
Echoing the praises by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier in the day, Albright, also a former U.S. secretary of state, complimented Mr. Tsvangirai for overcoming the rivalrous history with longtime President Robert Mugabe. That history includes trumped up treason charges against Mr. Tsvangirai, arrests, and beatings of him and his supporters. But Mr. Tsvangirai defended his decision to form an inclusive government with President Mugabe.
"This was not an easy decision, nor is it a comfortable arrangement. However, it represents another step in Zimbabwe's difficult but certain transition to true democracy," he said.
Doubts linger in the international community about Mr. Mugabe's sincerity to bring change to Zimbabwe. This has been renewed sanctions on him and his close allies, and donors have withheld funds as they await results. Mr. Tsvangirai says this wait-and-see attitude is not helpful. But he thanked former presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, for Kerry's recently introduced legislation to help Zimbabwe's political transition.
"This legislation represents the beginning of a new phase, designed to assist us in building new cooperation to receive much needed support in our efforts,” he said. “As prime minister, I'm aware that the people of Zimbabwe demand the delivery of better services, and more profound reforms at a faster rate. And the reengagement of the international community will assist us in this process."
The transitional arrangement is expected to end following the establishment of a new constitution that will pave the way for elections. Mr. Tsvangirai says that plan is on course.
"The president and prime minister will sit down and set the date for elections. Hopefully this process of constitution-making will lead to a referendum this side of the year, and next year we can have elections," he said.