STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Even as Americans hold their political conventions, democracy faces another test overseas. In Zimbabwe, the state-owned newspaper reports that President Robert Mugabe is planning to form a new government without the consent of that country's main opposition party. The news comes as talks between Mugabe and the leader of the opposition have stalled.
New York Times reporter Celia Dugger is covering this story from Johannesburg, South Africa. And she joins us now for an update. Welcome to the program.
Ms. CELIA DUGGER (New York Times): Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Now, a lot of things have happened this week. President Mugabe insisted, for one, that the parliament convene earlier in the week and that the parliament vote in a speaker. The opposition was against that, but it actually turned out to be a good thing for the opposition.
Ms. DUGGER: Well, I think to their surprise, and I think it was a miscalculation on President Mugabe's part. He thought he had cut a deal with a faction of the opposition. And those members of parliament rebelled against their own leadership and voted for the main opposition leader's candidate, who ended up defeating the candidate backed by President Mugabe.
MONTAGNE: So the opposition was in quite good spirits there for a while because it actually ended up, for the first time in his three decades nearly of Mugabe being in power, actually having a speaker of the parliament.
Ms. DUGGER: Yes, they broke into song and dance and were just jubilant. But as is so often the case in Zimbabwe, those who are celebrating for democracy find that their happiness is short-lived. The very next day, when Mugabe convened parliament, more of the opposition members of parliament had been rounded up and arrested on charges that their party says are trumped up.
In fact, they'd gotten knocks on the door in the wee hours of the morning from police who took them in. And they have a very narrow margin in parliament, which President Mugabe is not content to let them hold onto.
MONTAGNE: So rounding them up and arresting them is one thing, but that fact is it'll - it could have a practical effect on parliament. That is to say they could lose their majority if their folks aren't actually there.
Ms. DUGGER: And if the judiciary, I mean, is compromised enough to convict them, that could happen. One of the most remarkable things was in the state-owned newspaper in Harare this week. It actually confirmed that the government has given the high court judges, who would hear all these cases, satellite dishes and televisions and electric generators so that they don't have to suffer when the electricity is out, as it is often.
So they get a lot of perks from the government. And the question is whether they will hear these cases impartially.
MONTAGNE: How can Robert Mugabe form a new government without the consent of the opposition?
Ms. DUGGER: Well, the president is extremely powerful in Zimbabwe. And the price he'll pay is essentially the collapse of power-sharing talks with the opposition. But the truth is, by all indications the government and Mugabe are unwilling to compromise on the fundamental issue, which is who's in control.
And it's entirely possible that the army generals and other security officials are unwilling to let him agree to give the opposition real power in the government.
MONTAGNE: What are the sticking points in these power-sharing talks?
Ms. DUGGER: The fundamental sticking point is who's in charge. Morgan Tsvangirai, who's the leader of the opposition and who won the most votes in the last credible election, which was the general election in March, has insisted that he be in charge of the cabinet.
He's willing to give up control of the armed forces to Mugabe and a number of other powers. But he feels that in order to deliver on the policies needed to salvage Zimbabwe's economy, he has to run the cabinet. And Mugabe hasn't been willing to do that. He insists that the opposition leader be the deputy head of the cabinet, serving at his pleasure.
MONTAGNE: So in a sense the saga appears to be continuing.
Ms. DUGGER: It is continuing, and with no end in sight, no sign of a resolution that will bring a real transition to democracy in Zimbabwe yet.
MONTAGNE: Thank you for joining us.
Ms. DUGGER: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: Celia Dugger is a reporter for the New York Times. She joined us on the line from Johannesburg.
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