Zimbabwe’s president has ‘small window’ to act

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa has a “very small window” to show he is meeting national expectations of change after the downfall of predecessor Robert Mugabe, the country’s main opposition leader said Thursday.

Morgan Tsvangirai said in an interview with The Associated Press that it will be “very difficult to convince anyone” that Zimbabwe’s new leadership is improving the situation as long as much of the population is struggling to get by in the economically devastated country.

Tsvangirai spoke almost a week after the inauguration of Mnangagwa, a former vice president and close ally of Mugabe for decades who promised that “harmonized” elections will be held as scheduled next year and that democracy will be strengthened. The opposition leader, who joined an uneasy coalition government with Mugabe after 2008 elections marred by violence and vote-rigging, said he has doubts about whether the new president will bring meaningful change.

“The president has to demonstrate that he’s different from Robert Mugabe, that some of the critical policies that he’s going to announce are different from what has been pursued for the last 10 years,” Tsvangirai said.

“Give him time,” he said, but added: “I think he has a very small window because of the high expectation out there.”

Brokered by regional mediators, the power-sharing arrangement between Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party and Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party ended when the opposition lost disputed elections in 2013. Zimbabwe’s opposition has since struggled with internal splits, but now sees an opportunity in the resignation of Mugabe after 37 years in power. The former president, 93, was forced out after a military takeover and nationwide calls for his ouster.

“We are ready to lead,” said Tsvangirai, who cautioned that “really substantial reforms” to the electoral system are necessary to reassure Zimbabweans.

The opposition leader has been treated for colon cancer in neighboring South Africa amid concern about whether he can be at the forefront of political campaigning next year.

“I’m confident that the treatment is having desirable results. But should my evaluation at the point of a campaign reveal that I cannot proceed, I will inform the nation,” he said. He described himself as a “symbol of resistance, of democratization in this country” and that “sustaining that brand is very, very difficult.”

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