Zimbabwe's political leaders will sign a historic power sharing agreement today which, in effect, ends Robert Mugabe's 28-year monopoly on power. For the first time since white rule ended in 1980, the 84-year-old President will have to govern with a cabinet in which the combined opposition will have a majority of seats.
Mr Mugabe and the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, spent much of the weekend haggling over the allocation of cabinet posts in a government of national unity. The current bloated cabinet of more than 50 ministries will be reduced to 31 as stipulated in the deal brokered by South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki. Sixteen portfolios will go to the combined opposition, 15 to the ruling party.
Of the main ministries, Mr Tsvangirai is assured of Home Affairs, including responsibility for policing, and several other social and economic ministries including finance and foreign affairs. Mr Mugabe is to retain the defence and state security.
Sources said the MDC's strategy was tactical: to use its participation in the joint government to try to overhaul institutions of state, particularly the police, which has been heavily politicised by Mr Mugabe.
The opposition party, which secured a controlling majority in parliamentary elections in March, would then seek to opt out of the unity arrangement and call for early elections after the end of a constitution-making process in 18 months' time.
"We would then certainly win any such elections held in a democratic environment," said an MDC source.
If it works, the tactic would enable Mr Tsvangirai to avoid being outmanoeuvred and allow the MDC to drive its own agenda without any restraint from Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.
Mr Tsvangirai said at the weekend that he was giving Mr Mugabe "the benefit of the doubt".
"My vision is for transformation and rebirth of this country. I wouldn't have agreed to be part of this deal if it was an inadequate platform to achieve that vision.
"When you negotiate, you ought to have faith and confidence in each other. Otherwise there is no point in negotiating because you are bound to fail."
On whether the agreed power-sharing deal creates enough room for him to drive his change agenda, Mr Tsvangirai said: "We certainly have that leeway."
Creating the legislation required to give legal effect to the agreement is expected to take until November.