President Robert Mugabe plans to open Zimbabwe's parliament next week for the first time since members were elected four months ago, but the opposition said Thursday such a step would undermine power-sharing talks.
Members of parliament were to be sworn in Monday and Mugabe will open their session Tuesday, Austin Zvoma, the Cabinet clerk, announced on state radio late Wednesday.
Main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, speaking to reporters Thursday during a visit to Kenya, said he did not believe Mugabe would be able to open parliament.
"Convening parliament is in violation of some of the things in" an agreement he and Mugabe signed last month that opened the way to power-sharing talks," Tsvangirai said, adding such a violation would "have to be dealt with by the mediator," South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Mbeki's spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said the South African had not received a formal request from Tsvangirai, but would be willing "to discuss the matter" if such a request were made.
In a statement Wednesday, Tsvangirai's chief negotiator Tendai Biti had said convening parliament would be "an indication beyond reasonable doubt of ZANU-PF's unwillingness to continue to be part of the talks. In short convening parliament decapitates the dialogue."
The opposition won the most parliament seats in March, putting ZANU-PF in the minority for the first time since independence in 1980. But presidential elections held alongside the parliament vote were disputed, and Mugabe are in power-sharing talks to try to resolve the impasse.
But Mugabe can argue Zimbabwe's neighbors have endorsed his move. At a weekend summit, leaders of the Southern African Development Community pressed Zimbabwe's factions to complete the power-sharing negotiations and said "that while negotiations are continuing, it may be necessary to convene parliament to give effect to the will of the people as expressed in the parliamentary elections held" March 29.
By convening parliament, Mugabe may be hoping to pressure the main opposition into making concessions. Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai need the support of a smaller opposition faction to control parliament, and that faction has indicated it was ready to work with ZANU-PF. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change holds 100 seats; six short of a majority in the 210-member house. Of the remaining seats, ZANU-PF has 99, a breakaway MDC faction 10, and an independent politician who recently left ZANU-PF one.
If ZANU-PF were to control parliament, Tsvangirai's position in the power-sharing talks would be weakened.
A main obstacle to a power-sharing agreement has been the issue of what role Mugabe would play in a unity government.
Tsvangirai told regional leaders at the weekend summit he wanted to be a powerful prime minister. His proposal would leave the presidency to Mugabe, but endow the office with few powers. Mugabe reportedly insists on relinquishing little of the authority he has wielded since independence.
Tsvangirai's spokesman, George Sibotshiwe, told reporters in Kenya Thursday that such an arrangement was necessary given the economic crisis Zimbabwe faces.
"We can't solve economic problems with two centers of power," he said.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe and two other candidates March 29. However, the official tally did not give Tsvangirai the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff. He withdrew from the June runoff, citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters.
Mugabe held the widely denounced runoff anyway and claimed an overwhelming victory.