- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 17, 2008

JOHANNESBURG | Zimbabwe’s opposition chief would accept the prime minister’s post and concede the presidency — and command of the military — to Robert Mugabe to settle a political crisis in his country, the Associated Press learned Saturday.

Morgan Tsvangirai outlined his proposal for resolving the contentious issue of who would lead any unity government in Zimbabwe in a speech Friday to regional Cabinet ministers gathered for the Southern African Development Community summit. The AP obtained a copy of the speech on Saturday, the day the summit opened.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s proposal, which he said his Movement for Democratic Change presented during the deadlocked negotiations with Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, would mean a major curbing of the powers Mr. Mugabe has wielded since the country gained independence in 1980.

But it also would leave Mr. Tsvangirai working closely with a leader he has reviled as a brutal dictator.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been mediating Zimbabwe’s power-sharing talks, spent much of last week in Zimbabwe trying to push Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai to strike a deal. The question of Mr. Mugabe’s role has been a major sticking point, with the longtime president reportedly refusing to yield any power and his administration publicly mocking Mr. Tsvangirai’s claim to have a mandate to lead Zimbabwe.

In his speech Friday, Mr. Tsvangirai said the two sides remain unable to agree on how powers would be divided between him and Mr. Mugabe. A South African Cabinet minister closely involved in the talks, Sydney Mufamadi, said Saturday that a deal was close, but said it was unclear if a breakthrough would come during the summit.

Mr. Tsvangirai walked out of talks in Harare on Tuesday, but his chief negotiator said Saturday that the negotiations were back on track. “We’re talking here,” Tendai Biti said.

Mr. Tsvangirai said compromise is necessary because Zimbabweans would reject a deal “if any party is greedy.”

“We have agreed that Mr. Mugabe will be president whilst I become prime minister,” he told the SADC ministers. “We envisage that the prime minister must chair the Cabinet and be responsible for the formulation, execution and administration of government business, including appointing and dismissing his ministers. … A prime minister cannot be given responsibility without authority and be expected to deliver.”

Mr. Tsvangirai, whose party won the most seats in Parliament in the March elections, is proposing that the president have no power to veto laws. The opposition also proposed that the president “shall be commander in chief of the defense forces of Zimbabwe,” but exercise that power on the advice of the prime minister.

Mr. Tsvangirai won the most votes in a field of four in the first round of presidential voting in March, but not by the margin necessary to avoid a runoff against second-place finisher Mr. Mugabe. Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the June 27 runoff, citing attacks on his supporters by security forces and ruling-party militants.

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