Power-sharing talks between Zimbabwe's long-ruling ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change, which has a majority of seats in parliament, entered day three of their latest phase on Wednesday amid keen expectation in Harare and beyond that an elusive deal for co-governance could be within reach by Thursday.
Sources said they believed new proposals tabled Monday by South African President Thabo Mbeki, mediator in the talks on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, might unlock a weeks-long political impasse. The talks began late in July and in recent weeks many observers conjectured they had fatally deadlocked.
Despite mounting optimism, some noted that the only major breakthrough has been an agreement to write a new constitution within eighteen months of an agreement.
Sources close to the talks said Mr. Mbeki proposed that MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister in a cooperative government would have charge of all ministries, but be answerable to President Robert Mugabe, who would chair the cabinet. The sources said Tsvangirai would chair the cabinet in the absence of Mr. Mugabe.
Others said ZANU-PF remains determined that Mr. Mugabe should hold the lion's share of executive powers making Tsvangirai a ceremonial prime minister.
Elsewhere, a meeting of the SADC troika or committee on politics set for Wednesday in Swaziland was put off indefinitely. SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao said Mr. Mbeki requested more time for the negotiations which were in a “critical stage.”
From the talks venue at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare, correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe told reporter Blessing Zulu that senior officials of the MDC and ZANU-PF officials were gathered in the hotel lobby awaiting news.
Lawyer Tapera Kapuya, a South African-based coordinator for the National Constitutional Assembly, a leading civic organization, told reporter Zulu that Mr. Mbeki’s proposal to share powers between the prime minister and the president is problematic.
Providing additional perspective, independent political analyst Harald Pakendorf of Cape Town, South Africa, told reporter James Butty of VOA's English to Africa service that some incentive may have been put on the table to bring the two sides together.