After months of putting an optimistic face on his power-sharing deal with Zimbabwe’s autocratic president, Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai erupted last week with frustration at Mr. Mugabe and the country’s troubled progress toward democracy.

Mr. Tsvangirai had recently played down his differences with his 86-year-old political rival, but on Thursday declared he could no longer let Mr. Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party “act as if they own this country.”

His criticism was precipitated by Mr. Mugabe’s decision to name loyalists to serve as governors of all 10 provinces, despite an earlier commitment to share the picks with Mr. Tsvangirai. He informed Mr. Tsvangirai of his decision at their weekly meeting on Monday.

Mr. Tsvangirai, who won more votes than Mr. Mugabe in 2008, but withdrew from a runoff after thousands of his supporters were beaten and 200 were killed, called on other nations and Zimbabweans not to recognize Mr. Mugabe’s unilateral appointments of governors, judges, ambassadors and other officials.

But Mr. Tsvangirai has little power to enforce his bargain with Mr. Mugabe. And there is no sign yet that African leaders will demand that Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 30 years, be more conciliatory.

In the power-sharing deal negotiated by Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president — a deal regional powers pressured Mr. Tsvangirai into accepting a year and a half ago — Mr. Mugabe retained control of the police, the army, the state media, critical ministries and a sprawling network of spies, all of which he has used to repress opposition.

South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, responsible for seeing that Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Mugabe fulfill their bargain, has not weighed in on Mr. Tsvangirai’s latest indictment of Mr. Mugabe. “We’re just observing developments,” Mr. Zuma’s spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, said Friday. “It would be premature to comment.”

Mr. Zuma and other regional leaders have recently stepped up their advocacy for the lifting of Western sanctions on Zimbabwe, which Mr. Mugabe blames for the country’s economic ruin. The United States and Europe have placed travel and financial sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and other members of the governing elite. And United States law restricts American support for assistance or debt relief from the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Mugabe’s press secretary, George Charamba, took a hard line against compromise with Mr. Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change, insisting that Mr. Tsvangirai must first make an unequivocal demand for the lifting of sanctions. Mr. Charamba accused Mr. Tsvangirai of playing to a Western constituency. “The prime minister is not being forthright on the matter,” he said.

Mr. Tsvangirai himself has called for the sanctions to be lifted, though he insisted Thursday that human rights abuses committed during Mr. Mugabe’s rule and his disastrous economic policies caused Zimbabwe’s decline, not sanctions.

Even some of Mr. Mugabe’s harshest critics say it is time to get rid of sanctions, contending they have done little to stop the ruling elite from looting state resources or undermining the rule of law, while giving Mr. Mugabe a way to cast himself as a victim of the white imperialist West.

In reply, the Obama administration reiterated two weeks ago, after meeting Zanu-PF officials on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, that it had no plans to lift the travel ban and financial sanctions that affect more than 200 people in Zimbabwe as long as human rights violations and political intimidation continue.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s bitterness about his relationship with Mr. Mugabe has been building for some time. He was brutally beaten by police in 2007, but said in a statement released Thursday that he had been prepared to work with “my yesteryear’s enemies and tormentors.”

While there has been some progress — most notably in allowing more independent newspapers to operate — many issues have festered. Mr. Mugabe on Monday declared he would never appoint one of Mr. Tsvangirai’s closest allies to government — Roy Bennett, a former white commercial farmer — despite earlier promises to do so once he was acquitted of terrorism charges, Mr. Tsvangirai said.

Mr. Tsvangirai described the refusal to accept Mr. Bennett as part of “a racist agenda,” while Mr. Mugabe’s spokesman defended it, saying Mr. Bennett had been charged with contempt of court in his case.

Civic groups say they documented widespread harassment and intimidation by Zanu-PF of members of Mr. Tsvangirai’s party around recent hearings on a new Constitution that is supposed to bring free elections. Mr. Tsvangirai called the bullying and beating of his supporters “utterly abhorrent to me.”

“Events of the past few months have left me sorely disappointed in Mr. Mugabe and in his betrayal of the confidence that I and many Zimbabweans have personally invested in him,” he said

The particulars aside, Mr. Tsvangirai may also have decided the political risks of conciliation with Mr. Mugabe were greater than confrontation with him. Independent analysts and civic allies have fretted that Mr. Tsvangirai — generally seen as affable — had been outsmarted by Mr. Mugabe, regarded as a ruthless political survivor.

“He’s been telling all his hot heads to keep quiet, don’t insult the president in hopes the president would take him seriously,” said Iden Wetherell, a senior editor for a group of independent newspapers that includes the new daily NewsDay. “But he’s been betrayed by Mugabe at every turn. Mugabe’s used this process to claw back his standing and ensure the apparatus of the state remains in his hands.”

Mr. Tsvangirai’s biggest asset remains his popularity, but his chances of governing Zimbabwe depend on a fair election. NewsDay last month commissioned a nationally representative survey of 1,062 people, with a margin of sampling error of three percentage points, and found that 32 percent of them would vote for Mr. Tsvangirai’s party, and 18 percent for Mr. Mugabe’s.

But the most telling result was that 4 out of 10 were unwilling to reveal whom they supported. Pollsters said political intimidation during the recent public hearings on a new Constitution had left many determined to keep their voting preferences secret.

“A heavy and dark cloud of fear seems to have enveloped the electorate,” the survey report said.

(Source)