August 26, 2008

Opposition Gains Key Position in Zimbabwe Mugabe’s Party Loses Parliament Majority

By Celia W. Dugger

A reporter in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed to this article.


In a sign of political strength, Zimbabwe's main opposition party won the powerful position of speaker of Parliament on Monday, defeating a nominee backed by the party of President Robert Mugabe.

The victory of Lovemore Moyo, by a vote of 110 to 98, demonstrated that the opposition, at least for now, controls a majority in Parliament for the first time since Zimbabwe achieved independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Mugabe has clung to power for 28 years, but he and his party will find it difficult to govern the economically ruined nation now unless they forge a power-sharing deal with the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Negotiations to reach such a deal have been deadlocked over how to divide executive authority between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai fared better than Mugabe in the last credible election, in March, then boycotted the June runoff, protesting violence against his supporters.

Mugabe summoned members of Parliament to be sworn in Monday and to convene officially on Tuesday, for the first time since their election almost five months ago.

Opposition officials said they were fearful that Mugabe's party was trying to reclaim control of Parliament by luring away opposition legislators or intimidating them from showing up with threats of arrest.

Police officers arrested two members of Parliament from the main opposition party on Monday morning, stirring fears of a broader crackdown. One of the two arrested members, Shuwa Mudiwa, was released a few hours later and rejoined Parliament.

Efforts by the governing party to sow division within the often fractious opposition failed, political analysts said. In the secret balloting, members of Parliament from a breakaway opposition faction appeared to have rallied behind Tsvangirai's candidate for speaker rather than their own nominee, who was supported by Mugabe's party.

Despite the victory Monday, the opposition's majority is narrow. If united with its splinter faction, which has 10 seats in Parliament, the opposition controls 110 votes to 99 for Mugabe's governing party, ZANU-PF.

ZANU-PF and the opposition have been engaged for weeks in power- sharing talks that are now at an impasse. The question is whether the opposition's majority in Parliament will provide a new impetus to restart the talks. Tsvangirai, now assured of a majority in Parliament, is likely to be in a stronger position. So far, Mugabe has been unwilling to cede real executive authority to Tsvangirai.

Under an agreement that formed the basis of negotiations, any decision to convene Parliament or form a government was only to be made by consensus of the governing and opposition parties. Opposition officials have said Mugabe's unilateral decision to call Parliament into session was a repudiation of that pact.

"Clearly this is against the memorandum of understanding signed by the party leaders," said Luke Tamborinyoka, the director of information for the opposition party.

Senior officials in Mugabe's party have been pressuring Tsvangirai to sign a deal that would leave Mugable as head of the cabinet and make Tsvangirai a prime minister and deputy head of cabinet, answerable to Mugabe. Tsvangirai, fearing he and his party would be swallowed up by ZANU-PF, has refused to sign.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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