The MDC president admitted that over the past six months, the unity government had been "dysfunctional" but claimed 70 percent of Zimbabweans believed the MDC must slug it out in the troubled coalition until elections are held next year. President Mugabe wants elections this year, and claims the MDC was "dragging" the process ostensibly because they feared defeat.
Tsvangirai spoke as security officials have cancelled several MDC rallies and detained MDC officials including Elton Mangoma, a senior Tsvangirai ally who is also Energy and Power Development Minister, on corruption charges. Mangoma was only freed from remand prison on Monday on what Tsvangirai says are "trumped-up charges."
Police Commissioner-Ceneral Augustine Chihuri has denied charges the police force was systematically cancelling MDC meetings saying in fact out of 682 applications for permission to hold rallies noted since January 2011, 644 or 94 percent were approved. But Tsvangirai insists there is crackdown by security forces determined to frustrate the MDC into quitting the GNU but vowed that they will not have their way.
"If we withdraw from the process, we are falling into a strategic coup which is designed," Tsvangirai said. "You don’t allow your enemy to define the battlefield. In this case, we will not be pushed out, neither will we opt out at the moment.
"But what I can say is that at the end of the day, what people should judge — and I rely mostly on the people’s feelings is — is it strategic for people to get out and I think there is overwhelming support from the people. Over 70 percent say we must stay so inspite of the shortcomings, there is an overwhelming support for us to continue until the elections, until credible and legitimate conclusion of this transition is achieved."
Zimbabwe’s coalition partners, who formed a power-sharing government two years ago after a disputed election, have failed to resolve a number of outstanding issues from the global political agreement that gave birth to the GNU.
The GNU has been credited with stabilising the economy and ending record-breaking hyperinflation, but Tsvangirai said that momentum of economic recovery has been lost over the past six months as election talk dangerously escalated.
In the lead-in to the election, Tsvangirai repeated his claims that Mugabe was slowly losing grip and increasingly failing to account for arrests of political arrests and civil society leaders.
"These arbitrary arrests have been subject to Cabinet discussion, they have been subject to bilateral discussion between myself and President Mugabe and he said himself he doesn’t subscribe to that, then you are tempted to ask that question, who is in charge? I am concerned about the country descending into a police state," Tsvangirai said.
The MDC leader said either Mugabe was no longer in charge or he was walking him down a garden path, citing in particular contempty for collective decisions made in the National Security Council, the new security thinktank that was supposed to replace the Joint Operations Command.
"There are two questions," said Tsvangirai. "He is the Commander-In-Chief of the Zimbabwe uniformed forces: the question is if we go into a National Security Council and take a decision we shall not ban meetings, we shall not abuse people, we shall not do this; not only is he responsible for policy direction, but also operational directives.
"Now if those directives are not obeyed it means two things, either there is a deliberate defiance by the operatives which means that this is like defying the authority which is there or he is insincere. Now the question is which of the two is applicable. I have tried to search because when we are discussing, raising these questions he appears as someone who is not only alert but also in charge but when there is this blatant abuse of that directive then you think perhaps he is trying to pass on the discussion but he is also giving different directives so it is a complex relationship but to that extent I believe he is fast losing control."
The failure by the former foes to resolve outstanding power-sharing issues and to quicken the pace of political reforms has hurt the Harare government’s reconstruction programme with major Western nations refusing to release significant financial support until the coalition agreement is fully implemented.
"The inclusive government has demonstrated over the past six months that it is dysfunctional that I can concede. But is it irrelevent? I dont think so," Tsvangirai said. "I think its a relevant option for Zimbabwe because we are likely to fall into the trap of those who are pushing for the collapse not for the sake of moving the country forward but for the sake of defining how the next elections would be conducted under their own terms. We cannot allow that."
Tsvangirai said SADC’s facilitator President Jacob Zuma, who Zanu PF has intimated that he was no longer desirable as mediator in the Zimbabwe dialogue given his new hardline stance against Mugabe and Zanu PF, was beginning to realise the Zimbabwe political stand-off was threatening his own country in a big way.
There are growing signs of a rift between Pretoria and Harare over a roadmap to a new Zimbabwe election, with the SADC Troika handling the southern African country’s mediation making a barely disguised attack on President Mugabe.
This was in sharp contrast to the previously softly-softly approach of President Zuma, who has kept up a show of African solidarity with Mugabe. But officially, Zuma has been careful to remain within the bounds of the official South African position, with the ANC leader adopting polite and subdued language of African brotherhood in his public dealings with Mugabe and urging a negotiated end to the crisis.
But even as Tsvangirai paid lip service to Zuma’s previous quiet diplomacy, he made it clear he had little patience with it and believed other SADC leaders should speak out forcefully.
Tsvangirai was prickly when asked about Zuma’s stance on Zimbabwe. The two leaders met at Zuma’s rural home in Kwazulu-Natal last week on Sunday ahead of the Troika summit in Livingstone.
"President Zuma perhaps realises that the time has come for him to look at this crisis not from the SADC side but from the South African point of view and I totally agree with him," Tsvangirai said.
"Zimbabwe to South Africa is not a foreign policy issue. It is a domestic issue and therefore it requires President Zuma to take a South African position.
"Of course he needs the support of the whole region and I think he has got the suppport of the whole region. And he said ‘all we are trying to emphasise is that, look, we cannot accept a situation where that country’s instability affects all of us.’ The sooner that stability is assured with a legitimate government through free and fair elections then the people in South African can return home. No wonder why we have these xenophobic attacks. South Africa is pushing for increased employment and in the face of Zimbabweans that are taking these jobs wouldn’t it be better to have stability in Zimbabwe so that you create jobs in the country."
Tsvangirai said perhaps the impression created was that President Zuma was doing nothing about Zimbabwe.
"I think he has faced so much bashing internationally to the extent that he has realised that what is important is for South Africa to take a position." Tsvangirai said he believed the transition from dictatorship to democracy was "irreversible."
"Yes we will have turbulance, yes we will have discord, but I want to tell you when you have discrord you find solutions. And I’m a firm believer that Zimbabwe is not going to slide back, that the continuation of economic and social growth in the country is assured.
"Of course there is a temporary uncertainty when you talk about elections, when you talk about President Mugabe’s health when you talk about succession in Zanu PF and all that but we will overcome. The country is future is assured."
But analysts say Prime Minister Tsvangirai missed a golden opportunity to legally challenge President Mugabe’s sham June 2008 presidential win, and could have used the suit as a barganining chip in the rocky coalition government now perilously tottering on the verge of collapse.
An audit of the GNU by researchers Derek Matyszak and Tony Reeler of the Research and Advocacy Unit in Harare says Mugabe’s claim to legitimacy was anchored on the internationally condemned June 2008 vote that the MDC president boycotted citing restrictions on his rallies and political attacks on his supporters by militants in President Mugabe’s Zanu PF.
"Although the June election had been condemned as flawed by almost all observers, and, despite the fact that in 2007 the MDC had successfully negotiated amendments to the Electoral Act precisely to expedite such electoral petitions, Tsvangirai decided not to launch a legal challenge to Mugabe’s election," the audit report says.
"With clear evidence that the election results did not reflect the will of the people, even the Chidyausiku-led Supreme Court would have had some difficulty in finding otherwise. At the very least, the petition would have been a high chip to put on the negotiating table."