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Legislation allowing for the creation of a new government in Zimbabwe will enable the embattled country to take its first concrete step towards the formation of a unity government.

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai is likely be sworn in as prime minister on February 11 to begin the task of leading a government that many believe will be hobbled by mistrust and a party that is still battling radical elements bitterly opposed to the agreement.

After a week of bickering, a missed deadline, several abandoned meetings and ongoing internal wars, it will be an inauspicious start for the new government, which needs to show unity in the face of the urgent task of saving Zimbabwe from further meltdown.

The first key deadline in the implementation of the agreement was missed when government officials delayed parliamentary approval of Constitutional Amendment 19, which provides for the creation of the office of prime minister.

On the day the amendment was due to have been passed representatives of the two main parties were called to South Africa for what one negotiator described as a “straightening out meeting”.

An MDC statement had earlier announced that Zanu-PF had “backtracked” on the agreement after a missed meeting. Patrick Chinamasa, Zanu-PF’s lead negotiator, attributed the missed meeting to confusion over the venue. But the intervention and reportedly strong words from mediator Thabo Mbeki appear to have forced the parties back on track.

Officials on both sides supportive of the settlement had earlier expressed fears that any further delays would hurt what little chance remained for Zimbabwe to win key donor aid.

Confident that the government would indeed be formed, senior opposition and Zanu-PF officials this week held meetings with diplomats and aid agencies to gauge international support and to seek economic aid.

Those supporting the deal want to take advantage of what appears to be a softening of Western attitudes towards an accommodation with Robert Mugabe. “We have to take advantage of the small window we have here,” a senior Tsvangirai adviser told the Mail & Guardian. “The world is moving on and, given the state of the world at the moment, we are not going to have people knocking one another over rushing to help us.”

It was reported this week that the Barack Obama administration had toned down the tough rhetoric of the Bush White House and is no longer making engagement with Zimbabwe contingent upon Mugabe’s departure from government.

But Tsvangirai still has to win over internal opponents fighting the agreement, who argue that Mugabe retains real power and that the proposed government involves too many parallel structures, making it “unworkable”.

Under the agreement Mugabe will chair Cabinet, head the national security council—consisting of heads of security agencies and ministers—and will have the power to appoint and dismiss ministers, in consultation with Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai will chair a “council of ministers”, separate from Cabinet but including Cabinet ministers, deputise Mugabe in Cabinet and sit on the national security council. He will be in charge of policy formulation and implementation and formulating legislation necessary to enable the government to carry out its work. He will report to Mugabe and Parliament.

MDC’s cracks begin to show
The fact that Tendai Biti was the only one of the six negotiators to have been left out of the joint monitoring and implementation committee (Jomic) charged with overseeing the implementation of the agreement indicates the extent of the divisions within the MDC ranks.

Although Robert Mugabe demonstrated the importance he accords to the committee by dispatching Zanu-PF enforcer and close ally Emmerson Mnangagwa to head his team to Jomic, Tsvangirai left his own top lieutenant out in the cold.

The MDC has given no official explanation this week why Biti was excluded and there is no doubt that hawks within Tsvangirai’s party, led by Biti, remain bitterly opposed to joining Mugabe in a unity government.

The group wants Tsvangirai to pull out of the agreement and join a broad coalition of groups in a “campaign of civil disobedience” to pressure Mugabe to agree to hold new, internationally supervised elections within 18 months.

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