The details of the deal struck between President Robert Mugabe and leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai had not been released as we went to press.
But sources told The Zimbabwe Mail that one of the key planks in the power sharing agreement signed by the protagonists is a provision that prohibits by-elections.
Thus, in the event that a Member of Parliament dies, resigns or defects, the party that won that specific seat in the first place will be allowed to nominate a replacement.
What this means is that the parliamentary strengths of the two parties cannot be altered during the life of the coalition government.
In Kenya, political temperatures rose dramatically when in the middle of the power-sharing negotiations, two members of Mr Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party (ODM), were murdered.
In the ensuing by-elections, President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) won the Embakasi parliamentary seat that was earlier held by the late Melitus Were of ODM.
Clearly, the negotiating parties in the Zimbabwean power-sharing deal have sealed a major loophole.
The other centrepieces in the pact are the following. Tsvangirai will be appointed prime minister with the powers to chair Cabinet meetings and to deputise when Mugabe is on the chair.
The prime minister will be responsible for supervising and implementing government policy and will sit in the Joint Operations Command (JOC).
The power to sit in the JOC is especially critical considering its place in the whole power equation. This is a national security body made up of the army, the police, prisons and chiefs of the Central Intelligence Organisation.
Currently, its members include Gen Constantine Chiwenga, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri amd Prisons Commander General (retired) Pradazal Zinandi.
In the past, this institution has been resistant to the idea of accommodating Tsvangirai in a power-sharing deal. Days before the March 29 elections, they put out a statement saying that they would not salute Tsvangirai in the unfortunate event that he won the elections.
Unlike Raila Odinga, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe will also be the leader of government business in parliament.
In terms of ministerial portfolios, the pact has reportedly proposed a 31-member Cabinet, with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF to be allotted 15 ministers and eight deputies and the MDC taking 13 ministers and 6 deputies.
Arthur Mutambara’s party will have three ministers and four deputies.
Will the experiment work? What is clear is that the networks around Mugabe have accepted the deal only reluctantly.
"What you read from groups such as JOC and the vice president Mr Joseph Misika is shallow acquiescence," said a source who has been following the negotiations closely.
If the coalition experience in Kenya is anything to go by, then the coming months will be dominated by attempts by Mugabe’s inner circle and bodies such as JOC to constantly negate or evade the conditions attached to the agreement.
A host of cronies, and key patrons of the Zanu-PF party, when confronted with the prospect of losing privileged access to subsidised credit, foreign-exchange allocations, import licences, cheap utilities and public-sector jobs, will begin to fight back.
In Kenya, this phenomenon explains the constant bickering for public positions.
The controversy over the replacement of the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, Mrs Jacinta Mwatela, and the saga around the Grand Regency Hotel, are but reflections of the constant power play between interests within the coalition.
From the very beginning, the coalition in Kenya was rocked by the issue of protocol on who between the Prime Minister and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka occupies a higher rank in the pecking order.
The issue has refused to die. Lately, there has been talk of a grand coalition policy document to instill the values of the coalition within the government.
Disagreements on how to deal with party youths arrested at the height of the spate of violence that hit the country in the wake of the disputed elections have been yet another cause of friction within the coalition.
Lately, the main problem has been political instability within the main parties of the ruling coalition.
With President Kibaki already out of contention for the 2012 elections, his key allies are already angling to replace him. Loyalty to parties is going out of fashion as key players within the coalition start looking around for allies across their parties.
Within the ODM, a key ethnic constituency has been grumbling about sharing of Cabinet appointments and the eviction of squatters from one of East Africa’s main water towers — the Mau forest.
Consequently, the leaders of the coalition are now proposing to establish a grand coalition co-ordination board of 10 members, out of which eight will comprise ministers — four from each of the coalition partners — with the responsibility of resolving disputes.
In the case of Zimbabwe, it is clear that what has been negotiated is a transitional arrangement. The Kenya arrangement was a five-year power-sharing deal.
According to our sources, what has been crafted in the Zimbabwe case is a coalition deal that will be subject to a review in 18 months and subsequently after every one year.
"It is more or less an arrangement to manage Mugabe’s peaceful exit from the scene," said Sydney Samvu, the International Crisis Group’s expert on Zimbabwe.
What caused Mugabe to agree to the power sharing arrangement? According to analysts, Mugabe realised that the country was on the brink of economic collapse and was soon going to find itself unable to pay salaries.
"He was faced with both an economic implosion and an uprising", said Samvu. Some observers are of the view that Mugabe needed the MDC to sanitise his regime so that culpability for any future economic problems can be shared with the opposition.
The elections held in March deepened the country’s political and economic crises. Corruption and the repressive governance of President Robert Mugabe — in power for 28 years — and his ruling Zanu-PF-party bear primary responsibility for the severe economic slide, growing public discontent and international isolation of the country.
The annual inflation rate currently stands at about 11.2 million per cent, the world’s highest. Unemployment is over 85 per cent, poverty over 90 per cent, and foreign reserves almost depleted.
Over four million people are in desperate need of food. HIV/Aids and malnutrition kill thousands every month.
In the context of rapidly declining living standards, the government launched "Operation Murambatsvina" in 2005 to forcibly clear urban slums. The operation deprived more than 18 per cent of the population of homes or livelihoods and badly damaged the informal sector, the lifeline for many urban poor.
Up to a third of the population is thought to have fled the country and remittances from the growing diaspora have become the lifeline for those remaining.
On March 29, 2008, Zimbabwe held combined presidential and parliamentary elections already flawed by pre-poll manipulation.
Despite the skewed playing field, Zimbabwe’s people clearly signalled their rejection of a status quo characterised by political repression and economic decay.
For the first time, Zanu-PF lost control of parliament to the opposition MDC.
Results of the all-important presidential elections — withheld for over a month — gave MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai 47.9 per cent against 43.2 per cent for Mugabe, warranting a run-off.
The resurgent Tsvangirai claimed outright victory over the 84-year old president but has indicated he would contest an internationally supervised second round.
Though gravely weakened, Mugabe and his hardline supporters showed few signs of accepting defeat, launching a countrywide campaign of violence and intimidation. The East African (Nairobi)