Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai could boycott power-sharing talks next week and an election may be needed to break the deadlock over control of cabinet seats in a new government, his MDC said on Tuesday.
The deepening impasse has raised fears that the Sept. 15 power-sharing deal between Tsvangirai, President Robert Mugabe and the leader of another opposition faction may collapse and plunge Zimbabwe's economy further into crisis.
Tsvangirai, set to become prime minister, has accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF of trying to seize the lion's share of important ministries to try to relegate the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) to the role of junior partner.
The MDC won a March parliamentary poll.
Tsvangirai's discontent with weeks of fruitless face-to-face talks bubbled over on Monday when he snubbed an emergency Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Swaziland that was to address the issue.
He cited Harare's refusal to give him a new passport.
The summit has been moved to Oct. 27 in Harare, but there already are signs it will fail.
"Meaningful negotiations cannot proceed while ZANU-PF continues to hold Mr. Tsvangirai hostage and prisoner in his own country," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said in a statement. It repeated Tsvangirai's demand for a new passport.
His old passport is full and he has only been issued temporary travel documents for trips abroad. The MDC says Mugabe's government is trying to control Tsvangirai's movements and curtail his contact with international officials.
Unity government critical
While saying it was still committed to seeing through the talks, the MDC noted that this would not be possible if Mugabe and other senior ZANU-PF officials did not act within the spirit of last month's deal.
"The preferred trajectory is to conclude the negotiations, but in the absence of the ideal, Zimbabweans have no other way out but to decide who should have power through an election which is credible," Chamisa told reporters in Harare.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in a presidential election on March 29 but with too few votes to avoid a June run-off, which was won by Mugabe unopposed after Tsvangirai pulled out, saying his supporters had been subjected to violence and intimidation.
ZANU-PF chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa on Tuesday accused the MDC leader of stalling on the deal.
"Tsvangirai's failure to come to Swaziland seems to us to reflect his own reluctance or hesitancy to finalise and conclude discussions on the formation of an inclusive government," Chinamasa told the state-owned Herald newspaper.
The formation of a unity government is seen as critical to solving Zimbabwe's economic meltdown. Inflation has hit 231 million percent in a country suffering acute shortages of food and fuel. Millions have fled to South Africa and other nations.
South Africa's ruling party leader, Jacob Zuma, urged Zimbabwe's politicians to work harder to reach an agreement.
"We share the same views that a quicker solution to Zimbabwe is desirable for the sake of the Zimbabwean people and their country," Zuma said after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington.