Divisions between uneasy coalition partners Mugabe and Tsvangirai widened after a minister from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party published regulations giving an ultimatum to mining companies to surrender majority control to locals by September this year.
The 87-year-old Mugabe, forced into the unity government after a disputed election in 2008 marred by violence, is pushing for elections this year, about two years ahead of schedule. But lately it appears his party is giving up this fight.
Tsvangirai says conditions are not right for a free vote. He has threatened to boycott polls if they are called this year.
Pro-Mugabe veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970s independence war and Zanu-PF youth brigades have stepped up countrywide campaigns, sparking turf wars with MDC supporters.
The rivals blame each other for the violence, which caused thousands to flee to neighbouring South Africa in 2008, leading to a migrant crisis that Pretoria is still trying to sort out.
Tsvangirai has been lobbying regional leaders to pressure Mugabe on violence and election reforms.
The troubled unity government has brought a measure of stability to the impoverished state whose economy was crushed by hyperinflation about three years ago.
What to watch?
– An increase in political violence.
– A crackdown on journalists and Zanu-PF opponents in a bid to forestall Egyptian-style, anti-Mugabe protests.
– Reactions from influential regional leaders, especially South African President Jacob Zuma, who is the region’s mediator in the Zimbabwe political crisis.
Mugabe has turned the heat on foreign-owned mines after the government gave the firms 45 days to submit plans on how they plan to transfer majority stakes to locals within six months.
The unity government of the resource-rich state has sent mixed signals to foreign investors, with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF threatening takeovers and MDC officials painting a rosy picture of an emerging economy where overseas capital will be safe.
Mugabe signed an Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act in 2008, which forces foreign-owned firms worth over $500 000 to achieve at least 51% black ownership within five years.
Mugabe has also warned Zanu-PF will nationalise firms from countries that have imposed sanction on his party.
What to watch:
– How mining companies will react to the short timeline set by the government and impact on new investment in the sector.
– Establishment of an anti-sanctions fund.
Crackdown on critics
Security officials have arrested dozens of political activists accused of plotting anti-Mugabe protests similar to those that toppled long-standing leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.
Most were freed by the courts. Five await trial for treason.
Police have arrested a senior Tsvangirai ally on corruption charges and several MDC members of parliament for political violence in what the party says is selective prosecution. Analysts say Tsvangirai and his lieutenants have legitimate complaints against Mugabe over outstanding reforms, but there is growing frustration among his supporters that he is being outwitted by Mugabe, a cunning political veteran.
Attorney-General Johannes Tomana has ordered a probe against Tsvangirai over State Department cables released by WikiLeaks about his briefings with US ambassador Charles Ray.
What to watch:
– Any moves against foreign-funded civic organisations involved in election education and monitoring work.
– How Mugabe uses WikiLeaks to pressure Tsvangirai.
A multi-party parliamentary committee leading a review of the constitution says it will respect the wishes of ordinary Zimbabweans, but the final charter is likely to be a compromise between Zanu-PF and MDC, who both lack a two-thirds majority in parliament needed to pass the new supreme law on their own.
A referendum on a draft not backed by either party would likely trigger violence.
Tsvangirai says Mugabe’s supporters have intimidated MDC supporters, allowing Zanu-PF to dominate debate on the charter.
Zanu-PF says the MDC is preparing an excuse for its defeat.
What to watch:
– Compromise deal. Many Zimbabweans hope a new charter, replacing the pre-independence document, will strengthen the role of parliament, curtail presidential powers and guarantee civil, political and media liberties.
Zanu-PF is gathering two million signatures for a petition against Western sanctions it says have ruined the economy.
The MDC is not supporting the campaign because it does not believe Zanu-PF has reformed enough for removal of the embargo.
What to watch:
– How the MDC responds to the anti-sanctions drive which Zanu-PF is sure to use as part of an election campaign.