Sunday, 3 February 2008

Zimbabwe opposition says coalition talks have collapsed

HARARE (AFP) — A bid by Zimbabwe's opposition parties to present a united challenge to President Robert Mugabe in elections on March 29 has collapsed, leaders from two of the main factions said Sunday.
"This thing is irretrievably broken," Arthur Mutambara told reporters after a series of meetings between his bloc of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and another led by former trade unionists ended in deadlock.
"People of Zimbabwe, we apologise for failing to construct a united front," Mutambara said, saying that the chances of defeating Mugabe in elections scheduled for March 29 were now sharply "reduced."
"There is a disagreement," Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the other, larger MDC faction said at a separate news conference.
"We can't force it (unity) down the people's throat. It's regrettable, it's unfortunate, but that's the reality."
Both factions would participate in next month's polls despite conditions Tsvangirai said favoured Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
"We are giving the people of Zimbabwe a fighting chance against the dictatorship," Tsvangirai said. "We aim to focus on Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF as the authors of the present national crisis.
"The challenge we have got is that we are going into this election fully aware of the unfavourable conditions."
Political analyst Augustine Timbe said the split would hand victory to ZANU-PF.
"The votes for those who do not like the ruling party will be scattered between the various opposition candidates while those who have always supported the ruling party will stick to it," he said.
"The opposition has always spoken about creating an alternative government but where making important decisions is concerned, they have been found wanting," Timbe said.
Godfrey Chikowore, an analyst in the University of Zimbabwe's Institute of Development Studies, agreed the opposition's chances looked worse than ever.
"If the opposition was serious it should have put its house in order long back," he told AFP.
Mutambara said disagreement over seat allocations had been the dealbreaker.
"From haggling over two seats last night, this morning our colleagues came back to us demanding 20 more seats in Matabeleland even where we have sitting MPs," he said.
"At the same time they are not prepared to make such concessions in Harare."
Matabeleland is considered a stronghold of the Mutambara faction while the group led by Morgan Tsvangirai is dominant in Harare.
"In the absence of an agreement, we have no choice but to go right ahead and provide leadership in this country," said Mutambara.
"This means from this place we're going out in the country to work out our nominations for the presidency, 210 members of parliament, senators and councillors. Morgan Tsvangirai is not our candidate for the presidency of this country."
Once a formidable force posing the stiffest challenge to Mugabe's more than two-decade stranglehold on power, the MDC was riven by factionalism following a row over senate elections in 2006.
The factions temporarily set their differences aside and vowed to launch a united front against Mugabe last year after Tsvangirai and other party members were beaten by security forces breaking up an opposition rally.
Amid regional attempts to mediate an election framework between the MDC and the ruling ZANU-PF, Mugabe announced last month that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on March 29.
The MDC has been pushing for the poll to be held only after a new constitution was in place.
The 83-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, is widely blamed for his country's economic meltdown, with annual inflation officially put at nearly 8,000 percent.
Mugabe has blamed sanctions imposed by the European Union and United States after he allegedly rigged his re-election in 2002.

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