August 27, 2008

Zimbabwe: Opposition Calls for “Urgent” Resumption of Talks

Text of report by South Africa-based ZimOnline website on 27 August

[Report by Wayne Mafaro and Hendricks Chizhanje: "MDC Calls for Urgent Resumption of Talks"]

Harare - Zimbabwe's opposition called on Tuesday for urgent resumption of stalled power-sharing talks with President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF [Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front] party, saying only a negotiated political settlement could end deep-seated polarisation ripping the country apart.

Opposition MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] party secretary general Tendai Biti said the unprecedented jeering and heckling of Mugabe by opposition legislators as he opened Parliament earlier in the day was evidence of a divided nation, and urged neighbouring South African President Thabo Mbeki to recall Zimbabwe's rival political parties back to the negotiating table.

Mbeki is the Southern African Development Community (SADC)'s mediator in Zimbabwe.

"What happened today shows the obligations on both sides that negotiations should continue until we reach a negotiated settlement. I hope the facilitator (Mbeki), as a matter of urgency, will re- convene the talks so that dialogue will resume," said Biti, speaking after the opening of Parliament five months after last March's elections.

Negotiations to form a government of national unity - which many analysts say is the most viable way to end Zimbabwe's long-running political and economic crisis - hit deadlock after MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe failed to agree on who between them should control such a power-sharing government.

The election on Monday of an MDC Speaker to preside over the key House of Assembly while ZANU PF took firm charge in the upper chamber of Parliament, the Senate, has only helped to further complicate the struggle for power between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

While the opposition-led lower chamber can originate and pass Bills, these will need endorsement from Senate and Mugabe's signature to become law.

Judging on the palpable animosity between ZANU PF and the MDC, this could mean a paralysing tug-of-war between the two chambers on nearly every major issue that shall come before Parliament - unless of course some form of political settlement or cooperation agreement is reached between the squabbling parties.

On Tuesday, the extent of loathing between Zimbabwe's two biggest political parties was on display when MDC parliamentarians jeered and heckled Mugabe, drowning large parts of his speech to the new Parliament.

The MDC, which says it does not recognise Mugabe's presidency, had earlier threatened to boycott the opening of Parliament but later decided to attend the ceremony to show support for its national chairman Lovemore Moyo who is the new Speaker of the House of Assembly.

To show their disdain for Mugabe, opposition legislators remained seated when the veteran leader walked into the House. And when he began delivering his speech, they interrupted him with embarrassing chants and taunts.

"You killed people, we won't forget that," some of the MDC parliamentarians shouted at Mugabe who defiantly continued with his speech and attempted to defend his record in power by narrating some of the achievements of his government.

Meanwhile MDC parliamentarians have handed a petition to clerk of Parliament, Austin Zvoma saying Tuesday's opening of Parliament was invalid and that it was in violation of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on talks signed between ZANU PF, MDC and a faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara.

The MOU, underwritten by the SADC, had barred Mugabe from convening Parliament or forming Cabinet while talks were underway and said the Zimbabwean leader could only take such action with the consent of the other parties to the dialogue.

The MDC legislators said in the petition: "This official opening of the 7th Parliament of Zimbabwe is a clear breach of the Memorandum of Understanding and is therefore of no force and effect. The pu rported opening by illegal and of no force and effect.

"For the avoidance of doubt, the only person who can officially open this session of Parliament will be determined by the outcome of the on-going dialogue sponsored by SADC."

Originally published by ZimOnline, Johannesburg, in English 27 Aug 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.