Pro-Mugabe commentator moots transitional govt

Regional countries should mediate negotiations in Zimbabwe for a transitional government of national unity led by President Robert Mugabe to organise new elections, a pro-ruling party academic said on Wednesday.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF are locked in an election stalemate over delayed parliamentary results and a possible presidential run-off that has raised fears of widespread violence.

The opinion piece on the Herald‘s website said political tensions make it impossible to hold a run-off, which the MDC rejects.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said he won the election outright and accused Mugabe of seeking a run-off to rig victory in the biggest challenge to his 28-year rule.

Tsvangirai has appealed to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and foreign powers to intervene to guarantee a democratic poll result and prevent widespread violence.

There are signs of growing regional impatience with Mugabe from neighbours who have refused to take a hard line with the former liberation hero despite an economic crisis that has brought millions of Zimbabweans to their knees.

Maritime Southern African states refused to allow a Chinese ship carrying arms to landlocked Zimbabwe to unload, in unprecedented action towards Mugabe by long-passive neighbours, including traditional allies.

The action indicated a tougher response by the region, which has been criticised, particularly by the United States, for not doing more to end a three-week delay in issuing results from a presidential election on March 29.

There were also signs that China — already under fire over its supply of weaponry to Sudan for use in Darfur — was getting ready to scrap the delivery.

”As Zimbabwe could not receive the cargo as scheduled, China Ocean Shipping Corporation had to give up the Durban port and is now considering carrying back this cargo,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Tom Casey said the Bush administration had asked Beijing ”to refrain from making additional shipments and, if possible, to bring this one back”.

In his toughest comments yet, South African ruling party leader Jacob Zuma said in a Reuters interview in Berlin: ”It’s not acceptable. It’s not helping the Zimbabwean people who have gone out to … elect the kind of party and presidential candidate they want, exercising their constitutional right.”

Zuma, who has distanced himself from the ”quiet diplomacy” of South African President Thabo Mbeki over Zimbabwe, added: ”I imagine that the leaders in Africa should really move in to unlock this logjam.”

His comments were one factor helping to lift the rand currency to a seven-week high against the dollar. Traders welcomed Zuma’s readiness to take a lead on Zimbabwe after concern the crisis would hit Africa’s biggest economy.

National referendum

The opinion piece in the Herald, seen as a barometer of the official mood, said that a transitional government should seek the help of the SADC and the international community to write a new constitution adopted after a national referendum.

”It stands to reason that, the transitional government of national unity, negotiated by the two leading contending parties, under the mediation of SADC, supported by the international community, should be led by the incumbent president,” academic Obediah Mukura Mazombwe said.

The MDC deprived Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party of its majority in Parliament in a parallel vote on March 29 but there has also been a delay to a partial recount of votes from that poll.

The recount could overturn the MDC victory. The opposition and Western governments say it is merely another ploy by Mugabe to steal back the election. The Herald said Zanu-PF retained one of the 23 seats being recounted.

Tsvangirai called for African leaders to acknowledge that he won the vote, saying Mugabe would be allowed an honourable exit.

Africa’s reputation would suffer ”serious disrepute” if Mugabe stayed in power, Tsvangirai said in Accra.

Tensions have been rising on the ground as Tsvangirai tours the region seeking help in pushing aside Mugabe, a wily leader who critics say has used ruthless security crackdowns and a vast patronage system to keep a tight grip on power.

The MDC has accused Zanu-PF of killing 10 of its members and rounding up hundreds, charges denied by the ruling party.

In a separate story, the Herald said police have handled over 75 cases of political violence carried out by suspected MDC supporters.

The opinion piece called on both sides to compromise.

”The peace and security of Zimbabwe, that it has enjoyed since independence, is at great risk,” it said.

”Whilst the ruling party must stop behaving like a wounded buffalo, the opposition party must stop its hysterics and lapses into delusion.” — Reuters, AFP

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