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MDC divided over senate poll
October 13, 2005
- Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is
divided over participating in the upcoming senate elections, with
MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai publicly disagreeing with the party's
spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi and its national council.
"We are not going to participate in the senate elections [scheduled
for 26 November]," Tsvangirai announced on Wednesday. "The senate
fails to address the people's basic needs; the senate is an expensive
project we can ill afford when millions are starving - living in
a shrinking economy with a hyperinflationary environment; when millions
yearn for support against HIV and AIDS."
The MDC would mount "a national crusade against the senate elections
as part of a comprehensive mission for a [new] national constitution;
we shall also review our presence in parliament and future participation
in elections," Tsvangirai added.
However, Nyathi released a statement contradicting his party president.
"After five hours of deliberations, the MDC national council, being
the supreme organ of the party between congresses, resolved to take
[a] secret ballot of all its members present, including the six
members of the management committee. In the resultant vote, 33 councillors
[were] in favour of participation, while 31 voted against, with
two ballot papers deemed to have been spoilt.
"In the circumstances, the National Council of the MDC resolved
by a majority that the party would contest the senatorial election,"
However, Tsvangirai overruled his national council.
Tsvangirai enjoys the support of two powerful arms of the MDC, the
youth and women's leagues, which had already rejected participation
in the senate elections.
Lucia Matibenga, chair of the MDC women's league, told IRIN, "The
senate elections are not going to bring food to Zimbabweans. This
is a ZANU-PF [the ruling party] driven agenda designed to create
jobs for its supporters. As women in the MDC, we have decided not
to participate in the senate elections."
She was backed by the national youth chairman, Nelson Chamisa, who
said: "We have been participating in a lot of these elections, and
all they have done is to legitimise electoral fraud. For now, we
believe our families are suffering a lot because of hunger, and
the money to fund the elections should be used to import food for
Tsvangirai's rejection of his party's national council ballot may
split the party, warned Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the pressure
group the National Constitutional Assembly.
"He made a blunder [by allowing the matter to go to a secret ballot],
yet his position not to participate in the senate elections is correct,"
ZANU-PF used its overwhelming majority in parliament in August to
rubber stamp a constitutional amendment creating the senate. It
was the 17th amendment since independence in 1980.
The upper house will have 50 senators elected by ballot, while 15
non-political members will be appointed by the president from special
interest groups, such as members of the council of chiefs, women
and representatives from the agricultural and business sectors.
They will review, and have the power to change, legislation sent
to it from parliament, the lower chamber.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and political analyst Eldred Masunungure
said, "The decision taken not to participate in the senate elections
should be taken in tandem with that of [not] participating in parliamentary
elections, otherwise it will be meaningless and senseless to be
in parliament and not be in the senate."
Madhuku said Tsvangirai now faced the "very serious problem" of
bending the party to his will. "He has two options: try to reverse
the decision of the national council, or try to get the other faction
to agree with him as president of the party. If that does not happen
then they should declare a split," he said.
A split in the MDC would "not be the end of opposition politics"
"The faction in the MDC advocating a boycott of the senate would
survive and receive the support of people outside the MDC, if it
means the formation of a new and perhaps stronger party founded
on the principle of not legitimising Mugabe's rule; it would mean
the emergence of a new party that believes in boycotting institutions
like the senate, going ahead with street protests and demonstrations,
and pushing Mugabe out," Madhuku explained.
Word from within the MDC was that the party had faced similarly
difficult periods before and survived. However, divisions over the
senate issue ran deep.
Nyathi told IRIN: "The president of the party says he is not happy
with the outcome of the secret ballot, and we in the party are currently
working with him in an effort to help him deal with the democratic
outcome of that secret ballot."
Discussions between the differing factions were "ongoing", he said.
"We are aware of the magnitude of his [Tsvangirai's] disenchantment
with what has happened, but the national council - which is the
supreme decision-making body of the party - took a specific decision."
He noted that "negotiations with the president of the party can
yield one of two things: either the endorsement of the council decision,
or the rescinding of that decision".
Nyathi admitted that the MDC was in a "very difficult situation
... it's not a simple matter".
The party would work hard to "harmonise" differing opinions to ensure
that "we remain relevant as a party, and remain able to discharge
the mandate we were given by the people of Zimbabwe. The only way
to do that is to reconcile the two positions", he observed.
This might be difficult, given the entrenched position of Tsvangirai's
MDC secretary for economic affairs Tendai Biti put it bluntly: "The
spokesperson for the national council is Tsvangirai and not the
party spokesman [Nyathi], so what Tsvangirai says is binding."
"If there's confusion [over the MDC's participation in the senate]
then it's confusion in the press and not in the MDC," said Biti,
but acknowledged that "there was academic division on whether to
participate or not, which was natural, as there were penalties either
Participation in the senate was irrelevant to Zimbabwe's future.
"Whether we participate or not is not going to reduce inflation
to double digits, stabilise the currency, reduce levels of unemployment
... it is much ado about nothing - Mugabe is not going to go [leave
office] because the MDC decides to participate or not," Biti pointed
The party had to have its "own programme of mass democratic resistance
... [and] not senates created as warehouses for geriatrics", he
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa
told IRIN that the senate election would continue, with or without
the MDC's participation.
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