Parliament delays debate on unity bill, amid reports of Zanu PF panic

HARARE – Zimbabwe's parliament will delay debate on a law to create a unity government, a senior opposition official said on Wednesday, a setback that could further hold up a solution to a political and economic crisis.

Parliament was expected to start debate on constitutional changes creating a prime minister post for Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Wednesday, but a fresh dispute erupted this week, with the MDC accusing President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF of backtracking on the unity deal.

MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese told Reuters the rival parties’ negotiators would meet on Wednesday in a bid to settle outstanding matters before the proposed constitutional amendments were brought to parliament.

The first round of negotiations between ZANU PF and the MDC, since last week Friday when Morgan Tsvangirai received approval from his party to join the inclusive government hit a brick wall just as talks began on Tuesday.

The Bill is expected to be introduced in Parliament and seeks to give legal effect to the setting up of the proposed government by namely creating the post of Prime Minister for Tsvangirai.

It’s believed negotiators from all the parties have gone to South Africa for a ‘crisis’ meeting with the facilitating team to try and iron out their differences. ZANU PF negotiators on Tuesday refused to deal with some of the issues, saying they could not talk about them because they had no mandate from Mugabe.

Despite MDC worries, Mugabe on Tuesday told leaders at the African Union summit that he’s committed to forming a national unity government with the MDC. He said the country is ‘on the path to creating an all-inclusive government.’

“The ZANU PF caretaker government has begun to backtrack on the inclusive government by dithering to discuss contentious issues in line with the SADC resolutions,” party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said after the meeting ended early Tuesday.

He expressed regret that in spite of concessions made by Robert Mugabe last week during a full SADC summit in Pretoria, ZANU PF has remained intransigent. SADC leaders resolved that negotiators from the three major parties must meet ‘immediately’ to consider the NSC Bill, and the modalities and formula for the distribution of governors.

“Today, (Tuesday) the ZANU PF negotiators said they could not talk about the issue because they have no mandate from their leader who is attending the AU summit in Ethiopia. We in the MDC are convinced that there is no intention on the part of ZANU PF to put all these issues to rest. There is no wish to consummate an inclusive government in line with SADC resolutions,” Chamisa said in a statement.

Trudy Stevenson, a senior member of the MDC-M said she was surprised by ZANU PF’s sudden U-turn on the talks. She bemoaned the ‘delaying tactics’ by ZANU PF and described as ‘strange,’ reasons that the negotiators didn’t have a mandate to discuss the issues on the table.

“When they agreed with the SADC resolution, it meant they had the mandate to discuss all outstanding issues. They agreed to all SADC conditions and suddenly they say they don’t have the mandate. Something is wrong somewhere,” Stevenson said.

The MDC-T believes ZANU PF is ‘panicking,’ and that they have been caught flat-footed by their decision to join the inclusive government. Chamisa added; “ZANU PF never budgeted that the MDC would agree to be part of the inclusive government and now they are in sixes and sevens, while trying desperately to scuttle the deal.”

For the record, he added the contentious issue of governors was supposed to be dealt with last Tuesday in South Africa but ZANU PF negotiators said their tickets did not allow them to stay a day longer and returned with their principal to Zimbabwe. Then on Wednesday last week, nothing further was discussed as they said they were preparing for the budget.

The spokesman said ZANU PF negotiators then suggested that discussions on the matter be deferred to Tuesday, ahead of the passage of Constitutional Amendment number 19 on Thursday, ‘but true to culture and tradition; they have shifted goal posts and are now saying they have no mandate.’

“ZANU PF is spoiling to scuttle the inclusive government which SADC directed should be in place by 13 February 2009. We are ready to clear all outstanding issues so that we collectively confront the challenges facing the people of Zimbabwe, ZANU PF is not. We are ready to tackle cholera, unemployment and the collapse of basic services such as education and health. ZANU PF is not.” Chamisa said.