Though designated since September as Zimbabwean prime minister, opposition Movement for Democratic Change founder Morgan Tsvangirai on Wednesday formally declined an invitation by President Robert Mugabe to be sworn into that office, a party spokesman said.
Tsvangirai had not been expected to accept the invitation proffered by Mr. Mugabe, who has been trying for months to launch a national unity government but whose ZANU-PF party has been deadlocked over the same period with Tsvangirai's MDC formation. The rival MDC formation of Arthur Mutambara is more favorable to joining such a government.
Mr. Mugabe sent the formal invitation to Tsvangirai recently in the context of an urgent call by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, chairman of the Southern African Development Community, for Zimbabwe's political leaders to establish the unity government contemplated under a Sept. 15 power-sharing agreement to address an acute humanitarian crisis.
A cholera epidemic has claimed more than 1,550 lives in recent months, and hunger looms in early 2009 for many Zimbabweans given the scarcity and high cost of food in the country and the limited resources presently available to the World Food Program and other agencies.
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai's MDC formation told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that it is not for Mr. Mugabe to invite the MDC formation to join a government as that government is to be jointly constituted under the pact.
ZANU-PF Chief Parliamentary Whip Joram Gumbo accused the MDC of failing to respect the intent of the power-sharing agreement, and of seeking to bypass the judicial process in demanding the release of MDC activists jailed on charges they plotted a coup.