/ 28 October 2009

Mugabe may replace MDC ministers boycotting govt

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe may appoint acting ministers in place of officials from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party who are boycotting Cabinet meetings, local media said on Wednesday.

The rival leaders formed a power-sharing government in February to ease a decade-long political and economic crisis, but they have been arguing over how to share executive power, the appointment of senior state officials, the pace of reform and Western sanctions against Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.

The dispute deepened this month when Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) said it would stop attending Cabinet meetings in protest against the arrest of one of its top officials and what it called Mugabe’s refusal to fully implement the power-sharing pact.

On Wednesday, the Herald newspaper, which like other state media is controlled by Zanu-PF, quoted Information Minister Webster Shamu as saying Mugabe might soon appoint acting ministers to fill in for MDC officials.

Shamu said the MDC boycott, which began on October 16, was affecting the government’s work in preparing for a new farming season and its efforts to turn around the agriculture-based economy after years of recession.

”His Excellency [Mugabe] may have to consider appointing ministers in an acting capacity to key ministries for the sake of a successful agricultural season and general economic turnaround,” Shamu was quoted as saying.

Political analysts say the appointment of acting ministers would further anger the MDC, although the party’s options are limited.

Shamu said those whose positions were likely to be filled included Finance Minister Tendai Biti, Planning Minister Elton Mangoma and Energy Minister Elias Mudzuri, all senior MDC figures who sit on a cabinet committee on agriculture.

A mediation team of three ministers from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) will meet Zanu-PF and the MDC on Thursday to try to break the deadlock.

Mugabe says he has fulfilled his part of the agreement and wants Tsvangirai to campaign for the lifting of Western sanctions against his Zanu-PF and for an end to a propaganda campaign by MDC supporters abroad.

Political analysts say that, although the coalition has been shaken by the MDC boycott, a complete collapse still looks unlikely because both parties have no viable alternative. — Reuters