Tsvangirai talks to civic groups on planned unity government

HARARE – Zimbabwean prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the dominant formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, met Monday with civil society leaders aiming to allay skepticism over his party's decision late last week to participate in a national unity government with the ZANU-Pf party of President Robert Mugabe.

Civil society is divided over the MDC’s decision, though many are cautiously optimistic as to the likely success of the deal while others have wholeheartedly backed Tsvangirai.

Sources said Tsvangirai assured civic leaders that joining the government was the only option for the MDC given the humanitarian crisis including a cholera epidemic which has claimed more than 3,000 lives, widespread hunger and a hyperinflationary economy.

He expressed optimism that the so-called Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee which will oversee implementation of last September’s unity accord between ZANU-PF and the two MDC formations is starting deliberations this week on all outstanding issues.

Tsvangirai MDC formation spokesman Nelson Chamisa told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that most civic groups are lined up behind his party.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Information Officer Benjamin Nyandoro said the MDC consulted many civic groups before deciding to join the unity government.

Meanwhile the MDC has moved to reassure sceptical supporters that it will not be held ‘prisoner’ in a government of national unity with ZANU PF. Speaking to SW Radio Africa on Monday, party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said if for any reason the deal failed to work they would have no hesitation in walking out, ‘even if it meant in the next hour, tonight or tomorrow.’

Chamisa refused to be drawn into whether they would walk out of the deal if some of their National Council demands were not met by the 11th of February when Tsvangirai is due to be sworn in as Prime Minister. He said some of the issues were already ‘work in progress.’

In a statement released soon after the vote to join the government the MDC National Council insisted on a resolution covering all outstanding issues. These were listed as: the drafting of legislation spelling out the role of the newly created National Security Council; the appointment of provincial governors; the equitable distribution of ministerial portfolios, and for all political prisoners to be released.

A timetable set by the regional grouping SADC sets out that a unity government must be in place by the 13th of February, with Tsvangirai and his two deputies being sworn in on the 11th February.

On Tuesday this week a meeting of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) composed of ZANU PF and MDC officials is set to meet to iron out the outstanding issues. Analysts say its unlikely ZANU PF will make any significant concessions given that the MDC have already committed to the deal.

Chamisa said ZANU PF would not swallow their party as some feared. He said they were entering the deal as partners and not joining ZANU PF like what PF ZAPU did in 1987.

The MDC spokesman said they accepted criticism from those who were sceptical about the deal but said what was important was achieving a democratic Zimbabwe even if people disagreed on strategies. "We won people-power in March last year, now (via this deal) we are moving to getting state power," he said.

Meanwhile, legislation to effect a 19th constitutional amendment was expected to come to the floor in the House of Assembly on Wednesday and, following a rapid series of readings, could go to the Senate on Thursday, political sources said.

The bill was expected to pass without opposition as both political parties have vetted the text and pledged their participation in the unity government.

National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Matombo criticized the process, telling reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that with all three major parties joining the government, parliament risks remaining the rubber stamp was under a ZANU-PF majority.

The combined MDC formations including that led by Arthur Mutambara claimed a parliamentary majority in March 2008 elections.