The Zimbabwean government, breathing a sigh of relief after President Robert Mugabe’s controversial re-election last week, has come under concerted domestic, regional and international pressure to co-opt the opposition into its ranks to end a long-running political crisis in the country.
Talking without an agreement
However, while agreeing to talks with its political opponents, Mugabe’s government is unlikely to yield to any pressure to take in main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a Kenya-style post-election settlement.
Both critics and sympathisers of Zimbabwe are suggesting a power-sharing deal between the government and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, in which Mugabe would remain president and the opposition leader, premier.
In their calculations, this would help end the country’s long-running political crisis, restore stability and set Zimbabwe on a desperately needed economic recovery path.
The two sides have been in a political stand-off for years, a duel which has left the economy in tatters, with inflation of over nine million per cent.
The brawl deepened after Friday’s controversial presidential run-off poll, won by Mugabe but boycotted by Tsvangirai over pre-election violence.
No unity gov’t
The vote was condemned by most foreign election observers, even African monitors, prompting calls for a unity government, modeled after that of Kenya, borne out of post-election conflict.
Most of the observers said a unity government was essential for national politic al healing and stability in Zimbabwe and the African Union summit in Egypt, which ended Tuesday, lent support to the call.
Importantly, this was also being pressed by Zimbabwe’s powerful neighbour, South Africa, whose President Thabo Mbeki midwifed the country’s political impasse, mandated by the regional Southern Africa Development Community.
Powerful western countries, including the United States and Zimbabwe’s former co lonial master, Britain, are pressing for Tsvangirai’s inclusion in government, as a way out of the protracted political stand-off.
Faced with such a powerful array of critics and sympathisers prodding it for uni ty with the opposition in government, Mugabe is unlikely to give in, analyses an d indications on ground show.
Not only does he see Tsvangirai as a mere front for western countries hoping to reverse his controversial land seizures from the whites, Mugabe has said the two had no meeting of minds on any issue, let alone ideological.
Mugabe won’t bow
The veteran leader sees the suggestions as an attempt to subvert the country’s constitution and jettison the electoral mandate he was given in Friday’s poll, which he has vowed to defend.
Making matters worse is Tsvangirai and western countries’ push that any such unity government should be based on the outcome of the first round vote in March, in which the opposition leader beat Mugabe, narrowly missing outright victory. That implies Tsvangirai becoming president, and Mugabe prime minister.
“Never, never, never ever shall that happen,” Mugabe vowed during the campaigns, to the opposition leader ruling the country in his life time.
His government sees this as an attempt by Tsvangirai to sneak into power through the back door, accomplishing what he failed to do through the front entrance.
In fact, Mugabe accused the opposition leader of withdrawing from Friday’s vote at the last minute, to avoid defeat and as a tactic to later press for a unity government on the basis of his earlier victory.
Government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity as Mugabe has yet to officially respond to the requests for a unity government, have unequivocally dismissed the idea.
“That is absurd. Our constitution is such that the winner takes all after elections. We cannot entertain someone who pulled out of an election, but later demands to be included in government,” a cabinet minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
“His (Tsvangirai) handlers (western backers) deceived him. He is not going to get that, never,” he added.
This view was echoed by many other political observers, who noted the bad blood between the opposition and the government had grown worse after the latest election.
“It is simply unimaginable for the two (Mugabe and Tsvangirai) to sit in cabinet side-by-side,” one of them said.
“Politicians are like chameleons who change colour to suit the prevailing environment, but these two will never change colours for each other,” he added.
Mugabe, taking the oath of office Sunday, said he was willing to talk to the opposition, but conditional on the acceptance of the poll result and on issues of national interest, not agendas imposed by Tsvangirai’s alleged western backers.
On his part, the opposition leader made his participation in any talks with the authorities conditional on his recognition as the country’s president, based on the March vote.