MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has over the past two weeks come under unprecedented pressure to sign a draft agreement establishing a transitional government in which, it is expected, he will occupy the post of prime minister.
The point at issue is how much authority he will exercise in the new government.
Obviously he will want to be responsible for policy implementation if there is to be economic recovery. On the other hand, President Mugabe will hang on to as much power as he can. Indeed, it is he who is refusing to budge in the current stalemate. Tsvangirai, his advisors believe, has already conceded more than he should.
We need to refresh our memories here. Tsvangirai won a majority of votes in the first round of polling in March â€“â€“ 47% to Mugabeâ€™s 43%.
While this would be seen as unremarkable in a developed democracy, in Mugabeâ€™s Zimbabwe it was nothing short of a landslide.
Mugabe held all the levers of power â€“â€“ the military, the police, the state bureaucracy were all beholden to him.
He also had unlimited resources, thanks to the collusion of the Reserve Bank, and controlled the countryâ€™s single broadcasting outlet. The only voice heard across the country was his.
At the same time a stable of newspapers sang his praises daily while spewing a volcanic lava of hostility against the opposition.
To vote against the president was treachery, it was suggested, because Tsvangiraiâ€™s MDC was a Trojan horse for Western powers seeking recolonisation.
Despite such fatuous blandishments and threats of dire consequences for rural voters who opposed him, a defiant nation said it had had enough of Zanu PFâ€™s misrule.
The result was a landmark defeat for the incumbent and the bankrupt policies he espoused.
But owing to the MDCâ€™s failure to propitiate Arthur Mutambaraâ€™s formation, the result was insufficient to avoid a run-off.
In that run-off, a campaign of violence was unleashed against the MDC and those suspected of having voted for it. Over a hundred died. Others were mutilated and their homes burnt.
The institutions of the state were suborned into backing a candidate voters rejected in the first round when there was a semblance of a free vote. It was the darkest chapter in the nationâ€™s history since Gukurahundi.
Now Zanu PF and the MDC have agreed on a raft of reforms which in most situations would be seen as progress. But there is a structural fault in this agreement which Tsvangirai is being pressed to sign. Mugabe is reportedly refusing to concede to his putative prime minister authority over the cabinet.
Clearly, economic recovery is top of Tsvangiraiâ€™s agenda. That requires him to exercise control over the cabinet â€“â€“ he must make appointments and chair meetings. In other words the prime minister must be the head of government who is responsible for day-to-day policy implementation.
The danger in leaving an imperial presidency unreconstructed is the scope it provides for populist interventions.
A quick look at the distortions and lies in the state media this week will illustrate that. If anything goes wrong or recovery isnâ€™t fast enough the prime minister will be blamed. It is an invidious situation for Tsvangirai.
Mugabe has shown time after time that he will not take responsibility for failure.
If Tsvangirai is to be prime minister, he will be responsible for managing the inflow of over US$2 billion in recovery funds. Obviously he will need to ensure those funds are properly accounted for and not diverted to damaging vote-catching schemes. Zimbabwe is in its current morass precisely because there has been fatal economic mismanagement.
Recovery will only come when the international community perceives that money invested in the country is safe.
Tsvangirai will therefore need to have his powers guaranteed by Mugabe â€“â€“ in writing â€“â€“ and backed by regional heads. Like the law of the Medes and Persians, it will need to be cast in stone. Otherwise the misery will simply go on.
Tsvangirai in March received an unambiguous mandate for change. His party won a majority in parliament.
He should be allowed an opportunity to show how he can manage it while those opposed to change should get out of the way.
How long do they want this suffering to go on before they let someone else respond to the needs of the people? It is time Tsvangirai was given a chance to do what Mugabe obviously canâ€™t.