Zimbabwean peace talks reach dead-end

HARARE – Zimbabwe's deadlocked negotiations might have effectively reached a dead end now that Robert Mugabe's ruling party has resolved not to grant any of the concessions demanded by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.\r\n

Mugabe on Wednesday reported back to a meeting of his party’s top decision making body, the Soviet-style-politburo, about the failure of the SADC summit to break the impasse between him and Morgan Tsvangirai in negotiations mediated by President Thabo Mbeki.

Highly placed sources said the politburo had then resolved that Mugabe should not concede to Tsvangirai’s demands to become executive prime minister even if the dialogue collapsed.

Mugabe has also been told by war veterans and military chiefs to pull out of the dialogue with the opposition.

Authoritative sources said Zimbabwe’s military chiefs, led by Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga, were of the view that Mugabe had already ceded "too much power" to Tsvangirai in a deal now on Mbeki’s table which the opposition leader has flatly refused to sign.

Sources said the military chiefs and the leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association had told Mugabe to make no further concessions to Tsvangirai.

Instead, the army commanders and war veterans are urging Mugabe to dissolve parliament, soon after it resumes sitting next week, and order fresh elections in which Mugabe would win through a campaign of violence.

It is unlikely that Mugabe would resort to that drastic step. Tsvangirai’s MDC instead fears a campaign of targeted assassinations against its MPs to force by-elections which Mugabe would win by violence to regain his parliamentary majority.

Mugabe controls 99 seats, Tsvangirai 100, while a smaller faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara controls 10. The remaining seat belongs to an independent. Mugabe only needs to regain seven seats to take control of parliament.

He is already trying to woo opposition MPs by offering them incentives.

Chiwenga is opposed to a proposal to make Tsvangirai sit on the Joint Operations Command, to be renamed the National Security Council in the proposed unity government.

Chiwenga is still fiercely opposed to any elevation of Tsvangirai and he is said to have told Mugabe that he would still not salute Tsvangirai even if the unity government deal was eventually signed and Tsvangirai assumed the prime minister’s position.

In the current deal, Tsvangirai would be in charge of all economic, social and humanitarian affairs ministries while Mugabe would be responsible for all security ministries.

This is among reasons why Tsvangirai refused to sign the deal.

He said that a situation in which the prime minister was asked to take responsibility for a certain category of ministries while other ministers reported to the president directly was wholly untenable and unheard of.

He described as "non-negotiable" his position that he should become executive head of government in charge of appointing the cabinet, chairing the cabinet and formulating and implementing government policies, among other things.

In this stance, Tsvangirai appears to have the support of many Zimbabweans who believe that "having no deal is better than a bad deal". The major achilles heel for Tsvangirai appears to be his plan B outside of a negotiated settlement.

Tsvangirai believes Zimbabwe’s economic spiral, underlined by official inflation of more than 11 million percent, will eventually force Mugabe to compromise. But Mugabe, who will open parliament on Tuesday, despite an agreement with Tsvangira to avoid doing so until the negotiations are completed, appears to have abandoned the dialogue in view of his latest action, a fact conceded by Tsvangirai on Thursday.

"The economy would have forced Mugabe to comprise if he cared about the suffering of his people. Unfortunately, he does not," said Trymore Chigudu, a Zimbabwean political observer.

"The opposition would now have to do much more – in terms of generating adequate internal resistance – to force Mugabe to compromise."

Mbeki also appears to have given up on the mediation. Sources said Mbeki would now only get involved in terms of encouraging Tsvangirai to sign the deal currently on the table.