Power-sharing talks between Zimbabwe's ruling party and opposition were expected to begin in earnest on Wednesday following the signing early this week of a memorandum of understanding setting out the daunting task ahead of the crisis negotiators.
Some observers expressed skepticism that the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition Movement for Democratic Change negotiating teams could address all of the issues on the table within the two weeks that have been allocated for coming up with a power-sharing agreement.
The agreement would provide for a government of national unity or a transitional authority to run the country or revise the constitution and prepare the ground for new elections.
Zimbabwe held elections March 29, giving the combined MDC a majority in the lower house of parliament, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai fell short of a presidential majority, necessitating a run-off against President Robert Mugabe.
But Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off five days before the June 27 ballot citing the wave of allegedly state-sponsored political violence which had swept the country following the March elections, and Mr. Mugabe's victory in the one-candidate race was widely condemned.
The present talks are intended to find a way out of the post-election deadlock.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, crisis talks mediator, is to present the outcome to a summit next month in Pretoria of the Southern African Development Community, which first handed him a mediation brief in March 2007 during an earlier crisis period in Zimbabwe.
Mr. Mbeki is to assume the rotating chairmanship of SADC in the course of that summit.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the signing and encouraged both sides to show good faith in serious talks which could lead to a lasting solution to the crisis and allow the country’s humanitarian needs to be addressed.
U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos described the memorandum as a "vehicle for undertaking talks," and said Washington will closely watch developments.
Tsvangirai issued a statement Tuesday saying he is optimistic about the talks, but offering the caveat that any agreement must have the full support of the Zimbabwean people, with particular reference to civil society and trade unions.
Optimism as to the prospects for a durable settlement was nurtured by word that Tsvangirai had engaged in one-on-one talks with Mr. Mugabe for 90 minutes on Monday following the signing of the memorandum of understanding.
But spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai’s MDC formation declined to release details.
Secretary General Welshman Ncube of the MDC formation headed by Arthur Mutambara said the two-week time frame for the negotiations is not set in stone.
Former Zimbabwean ambassador to China Chris Mutsvangwa, now a member of ZANU-PF's information committee, said Zimbabweans are masters of their own destiny.
Lawyer and political observer Theresa Mugadza told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the power-sharing negotiations could end the political stalemate, but added that it doesn't make sense to rush them