Whingeing Zanu PF accuses MDC of working with West as Mugabe baulks

HARARE – Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party on Thursday accused the main opposition MDC of plotting with President Robert Mugabe's Western foes to rob him of executive powers in post-election negotiations.

The accusations were made despite the clearest signs yet that the two sides could soon sign a power-sharing deal to end political turmoil that has worsened Zimbabwe’s economic decline.

"We are facing the same problems in these talks that we have been facing with the MDC, they are trying to advance the interests of Western forces, particularly of Britain and the U.S.," said the ZANU-PF official.

"In respect of these talks, they are directly taking orders and advice from British and American diplomats here, orders to get a deal that strips President Mugabe of all power and makes him a ceremonial head of state."

The negotiations started after Mugabe’s re-election unopposed in a June presidential poll that was boycotted by Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and condemned around the world.

Mugabe said on Wednesday he was hopeful that a power-sharing deal could be signed on Thursday.

Tsvangirai also sounded an optimistic note, saying he had been told by South African President Thabo Mbeki that "very little work" was needed to finalise the deal.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa dismissed the ZANU-PF charges of collusion with the Western countries, which have imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle to try to force change.

"I am not going to get into details of the talks except to say we are negotiating in good faith and with an open mind. You cannot say the same about ZANU-PF."

Despite the statements from both sides this week, many Zimbabweans question the optimism.

Tsvangirai, who won the initial election in March but failed to get adequate ballots for an outright victory, boycotted the second vote over attacks on his supporters.

Zimbabweans hope a deal can pave the way for the re-habilitate an economy in meltdown, as shown by inflation of over 11 million percent and severe food and fuel shortages that have driven millions across the country’s borders, straining regional economies.

A third day of power-sharing negotiations in Zimbabwe ended last night with Robert Mugabe refusing to sign a pact that would curtail his powers, despite making some concessions to his rival Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change.

But Mugabe and Tsvangirai left the talks — chaired by President Thabo Mbeki — upbeat about prospects for a final deal on a unity government.

Mugabe said there had been much progress. “We are signing tomorrow, we hope so.”

Tsvangirai was more cautious, saying, “There is very little work left.”

Mugabe is understood to have agreed to a new constitution, and that Tsvangirai serve on the national security council which has representatives from the army, police and intelligence services. Tsvangirai would also be the head of government in parliament.

Sources said that the “dealbreaker”, which Mugabe refused to sign, had been proposals to create equal executive power bases for him and Tsvangirai.

The option of creating a platform of ministers chaired by Tsvangirai as prime minister was discussed.

That body would make policy decisions and recommendations to a cabinet chaired by Mugabe, but effectively neutralising his powers.

Another proposal had been a council of state comprising the president, prime minister and their two deputies where final decisions would be made.

Outstanding issues to be discussed today include the number of ministers for each party and how long the transition period would last.

The Southern African Development Community’s (SADC’s) defence committee postponed a meeting yesterday to discuss the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

Clifford Mamba, principal secretary of Swaziland’s foreign ministry, said the meeting was postponed indefinitely to allow Mbeki more time to broker a power-sharing agreement.

Mbeki will attend tomorrow’s meeting of the SADC defence committee, known as the security troika (Swaziland, Mozambique and Angola).

Mbeki is understood to have told the parties that if there was no deal he would tell the SADC he had done his best as mediator, and that they “had failed as they were not serious about the negotiations”.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe will give a limited number of licences to retailers to sell goods in foreign currency to ease food and fuel shortages after almost a decade of recession. With Sapa-AFP, Bloomberg and Reuters