October 13, 2008

Mbeki returns to salvage power sharing deal

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki was travelling to Zimbabwe Monday on a salvage mission of a shaky power-sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition which he brokered last month.

Mbeki’s new mission, supported by both the South African government and the regional trade bloc SADC, came as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai threatened to pull out of the power-sharing deal after Mugabe handed key ministries to his own party.

The government announced on Friday night that Mugabe had given his Zanu PF party 14 ministries, including defence, home and foreign affairs, justice, local government and information.

The shock move – which also meant Mugabe would effectively retain control of the army, police and the rest of the state security apparatus -- caught the opposition off-guard, with both factions of the MDC insisting he had jumped the gun.

“The allocation of the ministries and all other issues will be discussed in Harare when he meets that country’s political leaders,” Mbeki spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga said.

Addressing supporters at a rally in Harare on Sunday, Tsvangirai said he was ready to walk away from the deal if the situation required. "If they (Zanu PF) do it that way, we have no right to be part of such an arrangement," Tsvangirai told a rally of 8,000 supporters.

Tsvangirai, who outpolled Mugabe in a first round presidential vote in March but pulled out of a June run-off because of violence against his supporters, said he was prepared to renegotiate the whole deal if his 84-year-old rival followed through with his stated allocation of ministries. "The people have suffered. But if it means suffering the more in order for them to get what is at stake, then so be it," he said.

Zanu PF lost control of parliament for the first time to Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the March legislative elections.

Zimbabweans hoped the September 15 power-sharing accord -- which should see Mugabe remain president while Tsvangirai takes the new post of prime minister -- would end months of political turmoil and years of economic ruin. But efforts to form a government have bogged down by disputes over who will control the key defence, home affairs and finance ministries.

"We had thought that they would be reasonable and equitable in power-sharing," said Tsvangirai, adding that it was out of the question for Zanu PF officials to have the defence and home affairs portfolios.

Edwin Mushoriwa, spokesman for the breakaway MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara that also signed the September 15 deal, condemned the cabinet allocation as "hallucination on the part of Zanu PF." "That list is what they wish to happen. It was not agreed on. As far as we know, there was no agreement on the allocation of cabinet posts," he told AFP.

African Union chief Jean Ping, on a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, called on the Zimbabwe's political rivals to end the squabbling and honour the terms of the power-sharing deal. "We are making an appeal to the Zimbabwean parties for this accord to be implemented correctly," Ping said. (Zimbabwe Standard)

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