Mugabe threatens poll if power-sharing fails
Godfrey Marawanyika in Harare, smh
December 6, 2008
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ZIMBABWE'S President, Robert Mugabe, brandished the threat of fresh elections in an attempt to force through a stalled power-sharing deal as the United States last night called for him to quit.
As a cholera epidemic in the crisis-wracked country worsened, a defiant Mr Mugabe lashed the opposition Movement for Democratic Change for refusing to join a unity government in which he would remain as president.
Neighbouring South Africa, meanwhile, said it was time to end "political point-scoring" while the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said negotiations Mr Mugabe was having with the MDC were a sham and he should stand down.
In an address on Thursday night, Mr Mugabe showed he was in no mood to bow to MDC demands to hand over the key interior ministry, saying he would call early elections if the two sides could not work together. "We agreed to give them [the MDC] 13 ministries while we share the ministry of home affairs, but if the arrangement fails to work in the next one and a half to two years, then we would go for elections," Mr Mugabe was quoted as saying in The Herald, a government newspaper.
Zimbabwe has been in political limbo since elections in March when the opposition wrested control of parliament from Mr Mugabe's party, and the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, pushed Mr Mugabe into second place in a presidential poll. But Mr Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off poll in June after dozens of his supporters were killed in attacks blamed on supporters of Mr Mugabe.
The two rivals signed an agreement in September to share power, but it has yet to be implemented after fierce disagreements over who should control key ministries.
Mr Tsvangirai says he wants to join a unity government but that Mr Mugabe must give up the interior ministry after keeping hold of the defence ministry.
In comments made to his ZANU-PF party's politburo and reported by The Herald, Mr Mugabe accused the MDC of trying to destroy the power-sharing agreement.
"The MDC should say no if they do not want to be part of the inclusive government," said Mr Mugabe, 84, who has ruled since independence in 1980.
While Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Mugabe were at loggerheads, the country has been steadily collapsing amid an inflation rate last put at 231 million per cent.
With the Government now unable to afford the chemicals needed to ensure a clean water supply, a cholera epidemic has swept across the country and even crossed the border into South Africa.
The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in its latest bulletin that the outbreak had now claimed 575 lives. The capital, Harare, is the worst-hit area, with 179 deaths and 6448 cases.
South Africa said it was sending a high-level delegation to Zimbabwe to assess how it could provide assistance. A Government spokesman said the crisis had reached such levels that "the time for political point-scoring is over".
Dr Rice said southern African states needed to maintain pressure on Mugabe to find a political solution. "It is well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave," she said. "I think that is now obvious."