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  • ZIMBABWE: MDC divided over senate poll
    IRIN News
    October 13, 2005

    JOHANNESBURG - 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," Nyathi declared.

    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 the hungry."

    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," said Madhuku.

    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" in Zimbabwe.

    "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 supporters.

    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 way".

    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 out.

    The party had to have its "own programme of mass democratic resistance ... [and] not senates created as warehouses for geriatrics", he remarked.

    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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