Tsvangirai has for long been a strident critic of President Mugabe

Morgan Tsvangirai, a former national trade union boss and leader of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), stands poised to be the country's new prime minister.

  

But for Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president and the leader of the Zanu-PF party, he has been a voice of opposition who would simply not go away.

After presidential and parliamentary elections in May, Tsvangirai seemed poised to bring down his long-term foe as the MDC took the largest number of seats in parliament and he came out on top in the presidential election.

However, a second round run-off was required as Tsvangirai had been unable to secure the 50 per cent needed for outright victory.

In the subsequent campaigning he complained of violence and intimidation against his supporters and withdrew from the vote handing a sixth-term to Mugabe.

 
However, widespread international condemnation and pressure from African states brought the two sides to the table and the great rivals have become partners in a new unity government. 
 

Political rival

 

Tsvangirai has been a constant political thorn in the side of the president since forming the MDC in 1999.

On his party's official website, Tsvangirai, 56, is described as "a self-made person, a solid administrator, competent thinker, charismatic leader, democratic team player and above all, a compassionate family man".

 

But Mugabe has repeatedly branded him a traitor and he has faced three charges of treason, as well as suffering several beatings at the hands of the Zimbabwean authorities.

 

Tsvangirai has been a thorn in Mugabe's side since he set up the MDC [AFP]

Police intervention at a prayer rally organised by opposition supporters in Harare last year reportedly left one person dead. The assault also left Tsvangirai with serious head injuries. 

 

In 2004 he was acquitted of treason for his alleged role in what was said to be a plot to assassinate Mugabe.

 

Tsvangirai was alleged to have been discussing the plot with Ari Ben-Menashe, a former lobbyist for the Mugabe government who described the MDC leader as "stupid" for even talking to him.

 

Tsvangirai lost elections in 2000 and in 2002 and the MDC lost further ground in parliamentary elections in 2005.

It remains to be seen whether the animosity between Tsvangirai and Mugabe can be put aside as the power-sharing cabinet attempts to tackle Zimbabwe's crippling economic problems.

  

The eldest of nine children of a bricklayer in the central Gutu area of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai rose through Zimbabwe's mining unions to become the secretary-general of the Zimbabwean trade union congress in 1988.

 

He has survived three assassination attempts, including being thrown out of the window of his tenth-floor office in 1997.

 

Some opposition members have criticised Tsvangirai's passive attitude, which has helped avoid serious civil unrest in Zimbabwe but earned his party little electoral headway.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies