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Zimbabwe's power-sharing pact: Can rivals make it work?

Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed Monday to a deal that splits the government, but keeps the military under Mugabe.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, a contributor / September 16, 2008

Two men, one government: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe (l.) signed a power-sharing deal Monday with opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai (r.) in Harare, the nation’s capital. Swaziland’s King Mswati stands between them.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa; and HARARE, Zimbabwe

After nearly three decades in power, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe officially has a partner. The question now: Will Mr. Mugabe actually share power with Morgan Tsvangirai, a rival who has been jailed, beaten, and tortured by the nation's security forces?

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After six months of stalemate and state violence, Zimbabwe's two major political parties signed a power-sharing deal Monday in Harare. The pact finally offers a path out of a crisis that's decimated this Southern African nation and left it shunned by many Western countries.

While the agreement clearly gives the greater share of power to Mugabe – leaving him as head of state and in direct control of the military and the intelligence services – it also diminishes, for the first time, the total control enjoyed by the ruling ZANU-PF party, and could pave the way for Mugabe to step down.

"The best path is cautious skepticism," says Roy Bennett, the treasurer general of Mr. Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), living in exile in Johannesburg. "The devil is in the details. The key is implementation, and we don't know how this deal is going to work in practice."

Among Zimbabweans both inside the country and in exile, reaction to the deal has been one of exhausted relief rather than jubilation. Some of the estimated 3 million Zimbabwean refugees living in South Africa may begin to return to their country, now that the political crisis has ended, but others will remember the campaign of terror used by Mugabe and his supporters against the very opposition figures that they will now have to work with, side by side.

Zimbabwe's economy – with an inflation rate of 11 million percent – is in tatters. It may take years before Zimbabweans want to return to their country.

But the fact that a deal has been struck could give space for longer-term solutions to be found and for aid organizations to begin the process of reconstructing a country that went from breadbasket to basket case in the last decade.

Under the deal, Mugabe would remain president of the country, chairman of the cabinet of ministers, and commander in chief of the armed forces and the intelligence services. Tsvangirai would become executive prime minister and chair of a supervisory council that watches over the cabinet.

Mugabe's ZANU-PF party would have 15 cabinet seats, Tsvangirai's MDC would have 13, and a split-away MDC faction would have three seats.

Under the deal Mugabe will still have the authority to "grant pardons, respites, substitute less-severe punishment, and suspend or remit sentences, on the advice of Cabinet."

He also can, subject to the Constitution, "declare war and make peace."

The deal comes after a tumultuous two-part election in March, where Tsvangirai's party won the largest number of seats in parliament, but where Tsvangirai himself fell short of the 50 percent required to avoid a runoff election against Mugabe for the presidency.

Mugabe won a second round of the election, after Tsvangirai pulled out of the race, pointing to the use of violence by police and militias against his supporters.

That context raises concerns, for some observers, about the durability of this agreement.