Zimbabwe: 'Talks On Brink of Collapse'

THE Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC this week said the Sadc-initiated talks with Zanu PF were on the brink of collapse as the ruling party was backtracking on a transitional constitution and the date for this year's harmonised presidential, legislative and council elections.

Tsvangirai said President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF wanted a "false election" in March and if the MDC became part of it, it would be a danger to itself.

The opposition leader said the MDC was ready to underwrite a smooth transition to end the country's multi-faceted crisis and remained in support of the Sadc talks being facilitated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

"But an unhelpful development has begun to creep in and we are deadlocked on key issues that should enable us to cross the bridge into a new era," Tsvangirai said on Wednesday in a statement on the economic and political situation in the country.

"In spite of the mess we are forced to live with today, Zanu PF has begun to backtrack on some of these agreed points and is going it alone."

He said the main sticking points were a transitional constitution and an election date.

"We settled on the transitional constitution following assurances that the agreement would be implemented before the next election. But Zanu PF is now against the spirit and content of that agreement, insisting instead that the transitional constitution can only be implemented after the election. This is unacceptable," the MDC leader said.

Sources close to the talks said the MDC and Zanu PF agreed on a constitution that is in the custody of Mbeki, but sharp differences have emerged on when it should be promulgated.

The MDC, the sources said, wanted elections moved from March to June this year to allow the agreement to take root, but Zanu PF insists the polls should take place as scheduled.

"The pace at which the transitional constitution was to be implemented determines the election date," Tsvangirai said. "If we are serious about Zimbabwe's future and an election whose process and result are endorsed by all political players and the people of Zimbabwe, then we have to follow the right protocols and procedures."

He said the transitional constitution already agreed to was essential in helping Zimbabwe set up requisite infrastructure for a sound electoral management system, codes for good governance and a human rights regimen between now and the election date.

These, the former trade unionist said, were key factors necessary to spur confidence, redirect the people towards a solution, regenerate hope and to rally the nation to unite in handling sensitive national crisis.

"As things stand today, Mugabe and Zanu PF are merely stringing along with us, when on the ground they are already moving ahead with their plan -- selectively picking up points of agreement and shoving them onto Zimbabwe in a piecemeal manner to present a picture of reform, at home and in Sadc," Tsvangirai claimed.

He said the intention was to mislead Sadc into believing that a lasting political solution was on the cards.

"They want to force an election in March with cosmetic reforms and still rig the outcome through a flawed process. That will not happen," Tsvangirai declared.

Some of the "piecemeal" agreements so far implemented include the amendment to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act and the Broadcasting Services Act.

During the Sadc talks, the MDC and Zanu PF also agreed on the need for an independent electoral commission whose task was to register voters, delimit constituencies, bar the military and the police from direct involvement in elections and to run the entire election.

However, the opposition claimed that the ruling party has since deployed the military, the Registrar-General's Office and the Central Intelligence Organisation to mark constituency boundaries and register voters, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Pretoria negotiations.

"We reject this form of deceit, the insincerity whose consequences are far-reaching for our bleeding nation. We refuse to engage in a ritual to legitimise Mugabe through a flawed election," Tsvangirai said.

He said other options on the table, should the deadlock remain entrenched, included a national shut-down and a series of lawful mass-action activities to "pull the nation out of the deep hole".

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