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MDC walks out of talks

Dumisani Muleya



TALKS between the ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are facing collapse after the two parties this week bitterl

y disagreed on the implementation of a new constitution. The fierce clash led to the MDC walking out of the talks on Tuesday.


Sources said Zanu PF negotiators Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche have told President Robert Mugabe that the negotiations were now on the rocks because the MDC wants a new constitution before the elections. The MDC also wants elections postponed to June.


However, Zanu PF does not want a new constitution before the elections. The ruling party took a decision at its September 5 politburo session that it would not accept a new constitution before the polls. The party also rejects postponement of the elections.


Mugabe said yesterday elections would be held in March.


“We are going to have elections in March without failure. I want to emphasise that the elections will be in March. We started announcing that there would be elections in March next year six months ago. We announced this well in advance, people must be prepared. If some parties are not ready, it’s their fault, we have given them enough time to prepare and there is another three months.”


Sources said that Mugabe made these remarks after the MDC threatened at the talks to boycott the elections. They said this came after Zanu PF told Mugabe serious problems had emerged over the constitution and polls.


“Chinamasa and Goche told Mugabe this week after meeting in Pretoria and Harare that talks have run into serious difficulties because Zanu PF and the MDC are not agreeing on the need for a new constitution before elections,” a source said.


“Disagreements are so serious that after their meetings in Pretoria starting last week into early this week, the parties clashed in Harare. At one of the meetings on Tuesday the MDC walked out in protest.”


Sources said MDC delegate Welshman Ncube stormed out of the meeting on Tuesday after sharp differences emerged with Chinamasa and Goche.


This was the first time any of the delegates had walked out of the talks.


The other MDC negotiator Tendai Biti is said to have sympathised with Ncube because Zanu PF was becoming rigid in its approach, backtracking on initial promises to the talks facilitators.


The MDC backed Zanu PF’s constitutional amendment agenda recently on the understanding — given by facilitator South African President Thabo Mbeki — that Zanu PF would reciprocate by accepting a new constitution and an array of legislative amendments before the polls. Mbeki became the underwriter of the deal on behalf of regional leaders who mandated him in March to facilitate the dialogue.


Despite the differences mainly on those two issues, the parties remain at the negotiating table and are travelling to Pretoria again today for crisis meetings starting tomorrow. The delegates had gone to Pretoria last Friday and returned on Monday after the talks ran into serious hurdles over constitutional implementation mechanisms and the elections date.


“Every meeting is now a make-or-break encounter,” a source said. “Zanu PF seems to be becoming inflexible, while the MDC wants reciprocation. It is now a do-or-die phase of the talks and that’s why the parties are now at each other’s throats.”


With Mugabe and Zanu PF not prepared to compromise and the MDC not willing to continue making concessions without reciprocation, collapse of the talks is fast becoming a reality.


“Zanu PF and the MDC are now standing at the North and South poles on the outstanding issues and unless they find common ground again a breakdown is looming,” a source said.


The parties were recently engaged in serious and heated exchanges over the contentious final agenda item, the political climate, which has proved to be a difficult issue for the negotiators. An inside source described the latest developments as tantamount to “war”.


The parties were battling over the demilitarisation of state institutions, the use of militias, abuse of state food aid and traditional chiefs, sanctions, land and hostile political rhetoric. The full agenda includes the constitution, electoral laws, security legislation, media laws and general political climate.


The parties have almost agreed on everything save for the contentious issues on the implementation mechanisms and the date of elections, the most important issues for the MDC at the moment. Implementation and the date of elections were expected to be the sticking points.


The comprehensive package from the talks if agreed is expected to be taken to parliament for ratification and be implemented in terms of the agreed transitional mechanisms and dates.


The Zanu PF congress yesterday claimed to have “ratified” amendments to the constitution even though lawyers said the ruling party could not ratify the changes beyond a decision by its central committee to support the reforms. “There is no way Zanu PF can ratify constitutional amendments because that is not how laws are made and indeed constitutions changed,” one lawyer said. “What they should say is that they have ratified
their own party’s position on the issue of constitutional reforms, not ratify amendments themselves.”


Zanu PF and MDC negotiators have missed deadlines since September and may also miss their proposed cut-off date this week again unless a dramatic breakthrough is found. Mbeki was in Zimbabwe recently to urge Mugabe and MDC leaders to step up their negotiating pace, but now the problem no longer seems to be just deadlines, but irreconcilable positions.

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