21. August 2008

Talks hang in balance

This country's power-sharing talks are hanging in the balance, with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) saying Zanu (PF)’s intention to convene parliament on Tuesday, Aug 26, would be a “clear repudiation” of the framework for dialogue.

The move to assemble parliament has left relations between Zanu (PF) and the two MDC factions in disarray. It also threatens to sabotage talks that were said to be in their final stages. The talks have deadlocked over the division of executive powers between President Robert Mugabe and the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai.

MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti yesterday said assembling parliament would ruin the talks and widen the gap between the parties. “Any decision to convene parliament will be a clear repudiation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU), and an indication beyond reasonable doubt of Zanu (PF)’s unwillingness to continue to be part of the talks. In short convening parliament decapitates the dialogue,” Biti said.

“The MoU makes it clear that no party shall take any decision or measure that has a bearing on the dialogue, save by consensus. Such a decision or measure includes, but is not restricted to, the convening of parliament or formation of a new government. In the present case, the MDC has not consented to the convening of parliament,” Biti said.

His stance contradicted that of Tsvangirai and another party spokesman Tapiwa Mashakada, who said the composition of a new cabinet was their main concern, and not the reconvening of parliament as such. Tsvangirai is understood to be relying on a coalition agreement with the breakaway MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara to protect him from attempts by Mugabe to secure a parliamentary majority by co-opting MPs from his or the other faction in the party.

But senior MDC officials last night confirmed to Business Day that there were fears that Mugabe would “make a deal” with sufficient opposition MPs. “There is a feeling of uncertainty … our worst fears are that Mugabe would manipulate the situation,” one official said.

Zanu (PF) holds 99 seats, the main MDC 100 and the Mutambara faction 10 seats, while Mugabe needs only 106 seats to form a government.

Welshman Ncube, Mutambara’s secretary-general and chief negotiator, said they had no objections to the convening of parliament. The latest stalemate gave President Thabo Mbeki, the talks mediator, an added challenge . His task could be more difficult if Mugabe appoints five senators and 10 provincial governors to the 93-member senate. The main opposition MDC won 24 seats in the senate, the breakaway faction six and Zanu (PF) 30 in the March 29 poll. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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