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Zimbabwe foes sign power-sharing deal

Who will control the security forces is just one item that could derail the pact cutting into Mugabe's rule.

September 16, 2008|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — The signing of a painful compromise Monday by bitter enemies marked a clear power shift in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe lost control of parliament and the Cabinet for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980. But it still won't be easy for his opponents to govern.

Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, faces resistance from hostile government ministers and security chiefs, as well as hard-line elements of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

For the deal to have any chance, Tsvangirai needs international help to end hyperinflation, now officially estimated at 11.2 million percent, and rebuild the country. International reaction to the deal has been cautiously optimistic, even though Mugabe remains president, keeps control over the military, and the two sides haven't been able to agree on who gets which Cabinet posts or controls the police and the intelligence services.

The enmity between Mugabe and Tsvangirai is so bitter that many observers question how a joint Cabinet could work. Tsvangirai has been severely beaten, jailed and charged with treason. Mugabe has often lampooned Tsvangirai's intelligence, called him a puppet of the West and sworn that he would never allow him to rule.

Calling for an end to bitterness and division, Tsvangirai declared Monday: "I have signed this agreement because my belief in Zimbabwe and its people runs deeper than the scars that I bear from this struggle."

Economic paralysis was the main reason Mugabe was forced to the negotiating table. Independent economists believe that even the eye-popping official annual inflation figure is much too low.

The power-sharing deal ended a prolonged deadlock after March elections, whose official results gave Tsvangirai 48% and Mugabe 43%. Tsvangirai pulled out of a June runoff because of violence against his supporters. Although the ruling party claimed Mugabe won by a landslide, the result was condemned as undemocratic by African observers and the international community.

With ZANU-PF hard-liners ascendant in the party, one senior party official predicted there would be repeated deadlocks in parliamentary and Cabinet meetings.

"Mugabe is going to remain in power," he said, because the president will be chairman of the Cabinet.

ZANU-PF will frustrate Tsvangirai at every turn, refusing to endorse new legislation, he predicted. The international community will not back the deal. Food, transportation and economic hardships will continue, and voters will turn against the newcomers to power.

"People will say, 'You people were lying. Where are your promises now?' That's what's going to cause a commotion," he said.

David Coltart, a prominent lawmaker with a smaller MDC faction, acknowledged that ruling party hard-liners could frustrate the new government. "In many ways, Morgan has been given potentially a poisoned chalice," he said.

The tension between the rivals was obvious at Monday's signing ceremony. Although Tsvangirai addressed Mugabe as "president," Mugabe pointedly refused to call Tsvangirai prime minister. Mugabe was loudly jeered by MDC supporters as he arrived at the ceremony and booed inside the hall as he spoke.

Under the deal, ZANU-PF gets 15 Cabinet posts; the MDC, 13; and the smaller MDC grouping led by Arthur Mutambara, three.

Tsvangirai will control a council of ministers, in effect a duplicate Cabinet, including deputy prime ministers -- which will advise on policy and monitor the Cabinet.

There is still serious conflict over the division of portfolios, with the MDC determined to wrest control of the security forces and finance from ZANU-PF.

One MDC insider said failure to get control of the police would be a "deal breaker" for Tsvangirai's group.

Another opposition figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tsvangirai could wield power effectively, provided Cabinet jobs were allocated fairly.

"I think our share of the Cabinet, if it's done on a fair basis, when combined with our percentage of parliament and our control over the majority of city councils in the country, would represent a significant shift of power, especially when you take into account that we enjoy the support of the significant majority of Zimbabweans," he said.

Mugabe said he would support the agreement so long as there was no Western interference. In his speech Monday, he accused the West and colonial powers of pushing for regime change and seeking control of Zimbabwe's resources.

"Why, why, why the hand of the British?" he said. "Why, why, why the hand of the Americans here?"

The agreement called for Western donor support to rebuild Zimbabwe and called on Britain to compensate white farmers for farms seized under Mugabe's land reform, which triggered the collapse of farm production and tilted the economy into chaos.

The deal calls for an audit of farms to prevent the ownership of multiple properties and ensure that farms are productive.

Tsvangirai said the first government priority would be to open up the country to humanitarian food aid. He pledged to stabilize the economy, get teachers back in schools, put doctors and nurses back in hospitals, and ensure power and clean water.

--

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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