Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Convening Parliament Breaks Earlier Deal

But election of an MDC member as speaker is major setback for president’s plans to control legislature.
By Benedict Unendoro
President Robert Mugabe convened Zimbabwe’s new parliament this week in clear violation of the agreement which governs the now stalled negotiations between his ZANU-PF and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.

The talks, an attempt to end the impasse which has paralysed the body politic since ZANU-PF lost the general election on 29 March, ground to a halt last week when Tsvangirai refused to sign the last of a series of documents as it became apparent that he was to be no more than a ceremonial prime minister in a government led by Mugabe as executive president.

Mugabe’s defiant move came in the wake of a communiqué issued by a summit of the Southern African Development Community, SADC, held in Johannesburg on August 16-17, giving him permission to convene parliament.

The SADC decision trumped clause nine of the memorandum of understanding signed by Mugabe and the two MDC leaders on July 21, which stated that as long as talks continued, participants would not “take any decisions or measure that have a bearing on the agenda of the dialogue, save by consensus. Such decisions or measures include, but are not limited to the convening of parliament or the formation of a new government.”

Analysts believe the convening of parliament was intended to pressure Tsvangirai into signing an agreement that would result in a government of national unity.

Mugabe had threatened to form a government with Mutambara’s minority faction of the MDC. ZANU-PF has 99 members of parliament and if they all sided with the Mutambara faction’s ten members plus Mugabe’s former spokesman and now independent member of parliament Jonathan Moyo, then the 100 members of the Tsvangirai faction would be outvoted.

However, not everything went Mugabe’s way. In a shock development, Lovemore Moyo, the candidate for the key position of speaker of the lower house put up by the Tsvangirai faction, defeated the Mutambara faction’s candidate, Paul Themba Nyathi, by 110 votes to 98 in a secret ballot held on August 25. That put paid to Mugabe’s hope of regaining the control of parliament he lost in the general election. ZANU-PF did not field a candidate for the post.

ZANU-PF did, however, triumph in the Senate or upper house of parliament, where its candidate Edina Madzongwe won the post of chair later on August 25. Although the March poll left the Senate split 50-50 between ZANU-PF and the opposition, Mugabe had powers to appoint senators directly. Madzongwe won with 58 votes, 30 more than her rival Gibson Sibanda, who in this ballot was supported by both MDC groupings.

Commentators believe the result in the lower house will have far-reaching implications.

“It seems the MDC has re-united de facto,” said Alex Dhewa, a Harare resident who supports Tsvangirai. “We must remember that the split in 2005 was engineered by a small clique. We always suspected that the rank-and-file membership in Matabeleland did not support the split. Now this has been confirmed.”

In the negotiations over power-sharing, Mutambara has lent his support to the arrangements proposed by Mugabe, which would relegate Tsvangirai to a toothless, ceremonial role as future prime minister.

Dhewa believes the leadership of the smaller MDC faction has been fatally compromised.

“Mutambara’s political life has ended, and for him to sit at the same negotiating table as Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe would be ridiculous,” he said. “What Mutambara forgot was that the people of Matabeleland, whom Mugabe brutalised in the 1980s, would never throw their lot with ZANU-PF, so his flirtation with Mugabe was bound to see him disgraced.”

More than a month after the much-vaunted signing of the memorandum of understanding and the start of negotiations mediated by South African president Thabo Mbeki and intended to last a mere two weeks, it appears that the opposing factions are no closer to reaching agreement about who should lead the country. This will complicate the selection of a cabinet, likely to be Mugabe’s next step.

An analyst who requested anonymity said the solution to the country’s political and economic crisis was now in the hands of both Mugabe and Tsvangirai, but that the latter would be negotiating from a stronger position than he had in the recent past.

“It can be argued that Tsvangirai now commands an absolute majority in parliament and in the negotiations. With Mutambara out of the way, Mugabe can no longer push Tsvangirai around as he has been doing.”

Another analyst who asked not to be named predicted that “although the political impasse is set to continue, with the economy in the state it is now, we might see a more determined effort to conclude the inter-party talks”.

Others, however, believe the task of governing the country is about to become even more difficult, since Mugabe could use his extensive powers as president to overrule parliament, while the ZANU-PF-led Senate can stop the passage of legislation emanating from the lower house.

Benedict Unendoro is the pseudonym of a reporter in Zimbabwe.

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