Tsvangirai arrives back in Zimbabwe

HARARE – The Zimbabwean leader of the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai arrived back in the country on Saturday, the first time he has been in Zimbabwe since November last year. The defiant MDC leader promised not to let Zimbabwean people down as unit goverment talks with Robert Mugabe gets to the crucial period.

Tsvangirai, who has spent much of the time since then in neighbouring Botswana, arrived on board a South African Airways flight from South Africa and told reporters he was "glad to be back home".

Zimbabwe’s political parties are set to hold meetings with the presidents of regional powers South Africa and Mozambique and with Southern Africa Development Community appointed mediator Thabo Mbeki on Monday, in a new regional push to break a deadlock in power-sharing talks.

Those talks will be followed by meetings between Zimbabwean negotiators on issues holding back the agreement on forming a unity government, South Africa’s presidency said last week.

"I hope the meetings on Monday will find a lasting solution to the crisis," Tsvangirai said.

"But I want to say the MDC will not be bulldozed into an agreement that doesn’t reflect the will of the people of this country."

The future of Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement will likely be decided on Sunday when the national executive of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) meets to decide whether to join President Robert Mugabe in a unity government.

Meanwhile, Parliament is expected to resume sitting on Tuesday; a key matter on the agenda is the draft legislation that would enable the formation of the new government. There are three scenarios that may play out in the weeks to come.

Talks resume and a power-sharing deal is implemented

Amid rising tension and increasing rhetoric from both sides, the prospect of an agreement being reached looks least likely.

Mugabe has declined Morgan Tsvangirai’s call for a meeting, while hawkish members of the MDC appear to have the upper hand going into Sunday’s crucial national executive meeting. Sharing power remains a hugely unpopular option for both sides, but some hope that the absence of any real alternative for either side will force them into a partnership. Neither side wants to appear to be the spoiler.

If a government of unity is agreed upon, the immediate priority would be economic recovery.

South Africa has released humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe already, but a more substantial financial aid package, backed by the entire region, would be required to address the worst of the suffering.

Crucially, the United States and the United Kingdom have declared that they will oppose any deal that involves Mugabe. The MDC will therefore be under huge pressure to play a key role in winning back Western donor support, which will be crucial to the survival of the new government.

Even if a deal is reached, doubts will remain over whether the new government will last. Members of the new administration will need to agree on what will have to be a comprehensive programme of social and economic reform, but mistrust between the two sides runs deep.

Mugabe forms the government unilaterally
The combined opposition, which is in control of the key lower house of Parliament, would make it impossible for Mugabe’s government to function. He would therefore have to call a fresh election to attempt to regain a parliamentary majority. Mugabe has already told his party to prepare for this possibility.

Such elections would most probably be held under conditions similar to the June run-off, which the MDC boycotted, partly in protest against the ruling party’s brutal campaign of violence.

Not only would Western governments withhold aid to a Mugabe government, they would devise new ways to undermine his regime. This would likely push Mugabe into an even more intransigent position and speed up the pace of economic collapse.

Mugabe appears to be preparing himself to go it alone, canvassing allies for funding.

Mugabe insiders have, in recent weeks, been talking about an aid package they claim their leader has up his sleeve. Mugabe has used his annual vacation to visit the Far East and is said to have scheduled a visit to Russia. His spokesperson, George Charamba, confirms that Mugabe is visiting “friendly nations” in an effort to secure financial support.

There have been suggestions of a possible $5-billion package, although even Mugabe loyalists doubt this is possible given the global financial crisis.

MDC drops out of talks
Public comments last week by a senior Tsvangirai adviser who said the MDC has the option to wait for the country to “crash and burn” dramatised the re-emergence of a radical core of the MDC that has always opposed compromise.

But others in the opposition doubt that sitting it out and waiting for a big crash is a good strategy.

David Coltart, a prominent opposition senator, warned that a total collapse of Zimbabwe would see “the more radical elements within the military seizing power, which in turn could see Zimbabwe degenerate into even worse forms of anarchy than exist at present”.

But the hawks have been strengthened in their position by a spate of abductions of Mugabe opponents and a declaration by the US and Britain that they will not support any agreement that includes Mugabe.

For now, at least, the MDC’s options are limited.

Should the MDC pull out of the talks, its next step would likely be to carry the struggle to Parliament. But after the expulsion of an MDC MP this week for having forged signatures on her nomination papers, the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC and Zanu-PF now have an equal number of seats in the lower house.

Only a combined opposition could challenge Zanu-PF in Parliament. But even then, Mugabe could dissolve Parliament.