The power-sharing deal between Zimbabwe's president and the opposition has stalled just as the man who mediated during months of painful negotiations, South African President Thabo Mbeki, has been upended by his own political troubles.
Mbeki's party forced him to resign the presidency over the weekend amid an internal power struggle, and it's unclear how that will affect talks here even though regional leaders say they expect him to continue as their representative in the crisis.
Some analysts worry Mbeki's troubles will lead the two sides to harden their positions. Others say it might boost the opposition, which has viewed the South African as an ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Despite the signing of a deal Sept. 15 to form a unity government, Mugabe's party and his political rivals haven't been able to agree on who will get which Cabinet posts, and their negotiators have not met since last week.
Mugabe remains president
Mugabe, 84, remains president, but is supposed to cede some of the powers he has wielded for nearly three decades. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, 56, would be prime minister leading a council of ministers responsible for government policies and reporting to a Cabinet headed by Mugabe.
John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said power-sharing might collapse without Mbeki, crediting the ousted South African with keeping the rival camps talking.
"He was able to apply pressure here and there and get them to sign the agreement. Without him I think each group is going to stick to its guns and that would be unhealthy ... the whole agreement could remain strictly on paper," Makumbe said.
Lovemore Madhuku, a lawyer who heads an alliance of about 30 Zimbabwean reformist labor and civic groups, said Mbeki's troubles might give the opposition a stronger hand by weakening a statesman accused by his critics of being too supportive of Mugabe.
That view was echoed by Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, who said Mbeki's exit "certainly could be in our favor."
A South African political analyst, Chris Maroleng, said the African National Congress faction that forced Mbeki out of office could take a harder line on Mugabe.
The Southern African Development Community, an organization linking the region's nations, said Tuesday that unless the new leaders of South Africa express opposition, the group expects Mbeki to continue as mediator.
"Mbeki was appointed by (southern African) leaders to facilitate negotiations in Zimbabwe given his proven ability as a leader and knowledge of the complexity of issues in Zimbabwe," spokesman Charles Mubita said.
Efforts at a standstill
Efforts to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis were at a standstill.
Mugabe left the country Friday to attend the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York and was not expected home until at least next week.
"There has been no progress," Chamisa, the opposition spokesman, told The Associated Press. "Mugabe's negotiators don't seem to have had necessary consultation with him on the way forward."
He described the stalemate as "worrisome," warning that it is further delaying Zimbabweans from dealing with their deepening economic crisis.
Critics have linked Zimbabwe's economic slide to Mugabe's 2000 order that commercial farms be seized from whites and handed over to poor blacks. Many of the farms ended up in the hands of Mugabe loyalists, however, and the once-thriving economy's agricultural base collapsed.
Now food, fuel, hospital supplies and other necessities are scarce as prices skyrocket. Millions of Zimbabweans, including doctors, teachers, business owners and others with important skills, have fled the country.
Western nations, who have shunned Mugabe's government and whose aid and investment are sorely needed, have reacted cautiously to the coalition agreement. Millions of dollars in aid are expected to flow in if Mugabe actually shares power.