Both Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, more at odds than ever over the terms of their power-sharing arrangement under the 2008 Global Political Agreement, have been stepping up their regional contacts amid continued high tension within their national unity government.
Mr. Tsvangirai on Tuesday met Zambian President Rupiah Banda, now chairman of the Southern African Development Community committee on politics, defense and security. Sources said the two leaders examined the crisis in Harare over alleged unilateral senior appointments by President Mugabe and recent moves by the Zimbabwean police to block political rallies called by Mr Tsvangirai and his former opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Sources said Mr. Tsvangirai seeks guarantees from SADC that a roadmap will be established to allow free and fair national elections in the country once it has drafted and approved a new constitution in a referendum.
Mr. Mugabe for his part on Saturday met Malawian President and African Union Chairman Bingu Wa Mutharika as well as Mr. Banda on the sidelines of the opening of the Nsanje World Inland Port on Malawi’s biggest river, the Shire.
Mr. Tsvangirai continues to have trouble with the national police. On Tuesday evening authorities cordoned off Cyril Jennings Hall in Highfield, Harare, where Mr Tsvangirai had called a town hall-style meeting with supporters.
Police said they had orders from Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri to bar evening meetings because of the danger of political clashes. After hours of negotiations the meeting went ahead, however. Another meeting called by Mr. Tsvangirai in Glen View, another populous Harare suburb, took place without police objections.
Mr Tsvangirai told supporters that minimum conditions for free and fair elections must be met before a new national ballot can be held next year as Mr. Mugabe has proposed. Mr Tsvangirai added that the constitution now being drafted is just a transitional one as a new constitution will be written if the MDC wins the election.
SADC sources said the troika might meet soon to assess the growing crisis in Harare. Movement for Democratic Change officials declined to comment on Mr Tsvangirai’s visit to Zambia. But Zambian Information Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha confirmed in an interview with VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the meeting took place though he declined to offer details.
In Harare the war of words continued as ZANU-PF Chief Parliamentary Whip Joram Gumbo accused the MDC of smearing the police by claiming it is taking orders from the former ruling party. But MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said ZANU-PF is misusing police powers to disrupt their meetings.
Harare-based political analyst Trevor Maisiri told VOA that election talk is raising political temperatures and warned that the situation might take turn for the worse.