With the latest arrest of a Deputy Minister of Youth on accusations on allegations of stealing a mobile phone, Robert Mugabe is surely on course to upstage Morgan Tsvangirai in Parliament.

Five MDC lawmakers — all convicted for instigating violence after last year’s presidential election — have been jailed in the five months since Mr. Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe agreed to form a coalition government. Members of parliament sentenced to more than six months in jail are required to step down unless their sentence is overturned on appeal.

The MDC has accused Mr. Mugabe’s party of politically motivated trials aimed at eroding the party majority. That would consolidate the president’s power, and allow him to pass laws or block legislation without consulting Mr. Tsvangirai’s party.

In addition to the five already convicted, 16 more MDC legislators, including Finance Minister Tendai Biti, have cases pending before the courts. Mr. Biti faces treason charges, while others are accused of political violence. All deny the charges.

No one from Mr. Mugabe’s party has been prosecuted for violence that raged last year before the presidential election. During the campaign, army soldiers and police beat, raped and tortured MDC party members and supporters, and stole their property, according to human-rights groups who reported on the situation at the time. An estimated 163 people died, and thousands were injured.

The minister of justice and legal affairs, which oversees the court system, is Patrick Chinamasa, a veteran Mugabe ally.

Ephraim Masawi, a spokesman for Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, said his party doesn’t interfere with the courts.

"Doing so will jeopardize the inclusive government and we have no desire to see the collapse of this government," Mr. Masawi said. "The fact that people from our side are not being prosecuted might just explain and underline the truth; which is that ZANU-PF was not responsible for last year’s violence."

Witnesses say violence has flared again in the countryside. These witnesses report seeing gangs of young people loyal to Mr. Mugabe harassing and beating MDC supporters ahead of by-elections to be held in coming months to install successors to the imprisoned lawmakers.

Ebba Katiyo, a 31-year-old from Uzumba, a district that saw some of the worst of last year’s violence, said a local ZANU-PF leader summoned her recently to a public meeting and ordered her to be be beaten, because of her support of the MDC.

"I was beaten all over the body," said Ms. Katiyo from a Harare hospital where she was recovering from the attack. "He called for another meeting last week and ordered a second beating, because he said I had not repented."

Mr. Mugabe last week acknowledged the rising violence at a ceremony to launch a national reconciliation program. He said he and Mr. Tsvangirai had a good working relationship and that it was taking time to convince grass-roots supporters to back the coalition government.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has dismissed outright any prospect of President Robert Mugabe’s party, Zanu-PF, ever swallowing his own Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).Such fears have variously been expressed since February when the two parties joined hands with the smaller MDC party led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara to establish a Government of National Unity in terms of the Global Political Agreement signed by the three parties in September 2008.

The dreaded imagery of the MDC being literally demolished by the President’s party arises from a similar political development 22 years ago when the then all-powerful Zanu-PF signed a unity pact in December 1987 with the then opposition PF-Zapu, which was led by veteran nationalist, Dr Joshua Nkomo, now late.

Nkomo was forced into the agreement in a quest for peace as the bloodshed of the Gukurahundi campaign ravaged rural Matabeleland, PF-Zapu’s power base. Nkomo died a disappointed and frustrated man 12 years later. Meanwhile Mugabe had tightened his grip on power while Zimbabwe was reduced to a de facto one-party state.

Addressing heads of government ministries in Masvingo Tuesday Tsvangirai said if any party was to be swallowed it had to be Zanu-PF.

“No one is going to swallow anyone and that is very clear,” said Tsvangirai. “I sometimes joke with President Mugabe that, ‘I hear that you want to swallow me’, and I am clear on that that no one is going to swallow someone.”

The Prime Minister said he was on a nationwide tour of the ten provinces to brief people on the objectives of the inclusive government.

“We want people to understand the inclusive government,” he said; “that it is provisional arrangement which reflects the ideals of all the political parties involved.

“It is not Mugabe’s government; neither is it Mutambara’s or mine. It should show the ideals of all the political parties.”

Tsvangirai said the current process of national healing and integration was one of the toughest challenges faced by the inclusive government. He said the exercise was challenging because it involved people who had lost relatives and friends.

“This is not an easy process,” said Tsvangirai. “It is a very difficult one because it involves people who have lost relative and friends.

“Some people are saying let the perpetrators be prosecuted while others are talking of compensation but how do you deal with the victims? You cannot just ignore them.

“But as leaders we have to be very clear that Zimbabwe needs peace and there has to be peace. Gone are the days when Zimbabweans killed or maimed each other.”

Tsvangirai was accompanied by Gorden Moyo, minister in the Prime Minister’s office.

Turning to the issue of food security, Tsvangirai said the inclusive government had set as a priority the provision of inputs and other necessities to the small-scale farmers so that they can increase production.

He said about one million small-holders and small-scale farmers had been targeted as recipients of agricultural inputs so they could increase production.

“Malawi cannot produce more food than us,” he said. “Hence we have to make sure that small-scale farmers revert to their position in which they produced over 60 percent of the country’s food requirements.”

On the constitutional reform process, the Prime Minister said what mattered most was the substance of the product and its content, and not the process through which the constitution would be crafted.

Tsvangirai was responding to criticism by some civic organisations that the government-led constitutional reform process was flawed.

“What we have to ensure is that what the people want is reflected in the constitution,” he said.  “We want to make sure that the views of the people will carry the end of the day, and not the process.

“After all the constitution will be subjected to a referendum where people will have the chance to choose what they want.”

Some NGOs, including the mainstream MDC’s former allies, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) have said that they are embarking on a parallel constitutional reform process in protest against the government-led exercise. (Additional reporting: The Zimbabwe Times)