Harare — ZIMBABWE's rival political parties adjourned delicate power-sharing negotiations last night amid fears that the talks had hit a last-minute snag which might lead to a collapse of the dialogue.
Sources close to the talks said the "deal-breaker" had been a proposal by opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai that he be made prime minister with executive powers while incumbent President Robert Mugabe be reduced to ceremonial head.
President Thabo Mbeki, who is chairing the talks, held a private meeting with Tsvangirai after he tabled the proposal — which was the original stance of the MDC.
Last night a Zanu (PF) official said Tsvangirai wanted a transfer of power to him and not a deal to share power. Tsvangirai wanted a transitional government for two and a half years instead of a five-year power-sharing arrangement.
Tsvangirai also wanted a transitional constitution, the official said.
After a marathon session that ended in the early hours of yesterday morning, substantial progress was made with the parties agreeing to sharing power.
Mugabe would have remained president, with two deputies, and Tsvangirai would have become prime minister with two deputies.
The main sticking point had been who would have chaired the cabinet. But after Tsvangirai's proposal last night, the talks stalled.
Tsvangirai looked frustrated when he left the Rainbow Towers hotel last night and said only that talks would continue today. In contrast, Mugabe said sticking points "will be overcome".
Earlier in the day, Mugabe said in a Heroes' Day address that the parties would have to find solutions to the country's problems despite their vicious fights during elections.
He said the opposition must "stop working with western powers" because that undermined the talks.
A senior Zanu (PF) official last night blamed the stalemate on Tsvangirai, whom he accused of "moving goalposts" after consulting his allies during the day.
US and British diplomats have confirmed to Business Day that their advice to Tsvangirai has been to not sign the draft agreement from the early hours of yesterday and to negotiate for more power. Their governments — which are preparing to provide aid to a new dispensation — would not bankroll any deal in which Mugabe retained control, they said. The Zanu (PF) official said Tsvangirai demanded more executive powers, including the authority to appoint and chair the cabinet.
It is understood that Tsvangirai no longer agreed with the initial proposition that would have had Mugabe appoint him to the post of prime minister. Tsvangirai wanted to be elected by a joint sitting of Parliament to ensure he did not owe his mandate to Mugabe.
Cabinet posts are expected to be shared between the parties. Zanu (PF) desperately wants to retain the ministries of defence and state security, while the MDC wants finance, home affairs and foreign affairs, among others.
A breakdown of the talks would spell further disaster for the country, which is in economic meltdown. Inflation is the highest in the world and there are shortages of basic commodities, including food, hard currency, fuel, electricity, medicines, chemicals and spares — and even water. With Reuters