"Tsvangirai flexes muscle" – Analysts

Talks to break a five-week deadlock on a unity government for the economically shattered state were postponed after Tsvangirai refused to meet rival President Robert Mugabe and four other regional leaders in Swaziland.

His Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) pulled out the meeting after Tsvangirai got his emergency travel papers late on Sunday, calling the delay an "insult" to the man designated prime minister in the unity accord.

Analysts say the boycott was a show of power and frustration from the former trade union leader who has not been granted a normal passport for nearly a year, and is only able to leave Zimbabwe on documents valid for a single trip.

"I think it is in many ways a power-game because they understand that Mugabe can’t have any legitimacy without the MDC," said Siphamandla Zondi of the Institute for Global Dialogue.

"By withdrawing their presence they undermine the legitimacy of the Zanu-PF government and what it is trying to do," he said.

Losing patience

Tsvangirai’s move follows tough negotiations in Harare last week where former South African president Thabo Mbeki failed to break a deadlock after Mugabe unilaterally awarded disputed cabinet posts to his ruling Zanu-PF.

Tsvangirai’s refusal to attend Monday’s Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting without his passport was a departure from his usual acceptance of the regional body’s role, said Dirk Kotze of the University of South Africa.

"I think it’s an early indication that he’s started to lose patience with SADC," he said.

"It’s (also) a clear indication that the basis of trust, confidence in the peace-process itself, is absent," Kotze added.

However, a snub against the regional body which brokered the power-sharing agreement through Mbeki on September 15 after a drawn out stand-off could come back to haunt the MDC later, analysts say.

"It would be a dangerous mistake for him to be labelled as a spoiler by both SADC and the AU (African Union) … but at the same time he is sending a clear message that he should be taken seriously in these negotiations," said Eldred Masungure, a lecture of political science at the University of Zimbabwe.

The spoiler label had long been associated with Zanu-PF which "has been dilly-dallying when Zimbabwe is burning", Masungure added.

Harare-based political analyst Takura Zhangazha agreed, saying a snub was not in the MDC’s best interests.

"If they hold out it is essentially to make SADC realise that the MDC is no longer just an opposition party, but a party of any government that would be formed," he said.

Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in a first-round presidential vote in March, forcing the 84-year-old into a parliamentary minority for the first time since independence in 1980.

Failing to win an outright majority, Tsvangirai then pulled out of a run-off election in June over claims of state-sponsored violence.

Fragile deal

The political deadlock has dimmed hopes for halting Zimbabwe’s stunning economic collapse, with the country buckling under the world’s highest rate of inflation at 231 million percent.

Nearly half the population needs UN food aid, while 80% of the people are living in poverty.

For Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group, the latest setback between the bickering leaders on Monday pointed to the deal’s fragility.

"What it actually shows is that it’s not a question of if this government will collapse, it’s of when," Masamvu said. "It will take off but the marriage won’t last. There’s no chemistry in the relationship."