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ZIMBABWE: Opposition MDC hopes to avoid split
October 20, 2005

HARARE - The leadership of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is continuing crisis talks to mend divisions over whether to participate in next month's senate elections.

Party president Morgan Tsvangirai and both the women's and youth assemblies have called for a boycott of the senate poll on 26 November, but a powerful faction within the party has vowed to press ahead with preparations for the elections.

Tsvangirai announced two weeks ago that the MDC would not participate in the upcoming poll, overruling the party's national council, which had voted in favour of contesting.

The divided opposition will have to make a final decision before next Monday, when aspiring senate candidates have to file for nomination.

The party's national executive committee is scheduled to meet on Saturday.

Gibson Sibanda, the party's vice-president, said Tsvangirai had "wilfully violated the constitution of the MDC and breached its provisions" by ignoring the national council's decision.

Sibanda said he had held talks with Tsvangirai in a bid to come up with a unified MDC position on the poll.

"I met the president of the MDC, Mr Tsvangirai, on Sunday and I met him on Wednesday and today [Thursday], so that we come up with one common agenda on the issue of the senate elections. We are still seeking a solution to the crisis that we are facing as an organisation," he commented.

He said the party's leadership structure had met in Harare on Wednesday, but no accommodation had been reached.

Tsvangirai's statement that money to hold the elections should be used to increase the salaries of poorly paid civil servants like teachers, members of the police and the army has resonated with ordinary Zimbabweans.

The National Constitutional Assembly, a local NGO, and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions issued statements on Thursday urging the MDC to boycott the poll, and reiterated that the costs involved in establishing a senate were intolerable.

The MDC leader's position was also strengthened this week when four of the six MDC provincial offices that had voted for participation in the senate poll reversed their initial position and backed his stance.

Six MDC provinces had initially supported participation while six had voted against; Bulawayo and Matabeleland South provinces are now the only remaining pro-senate areas.

Of the six top opposition leaders, Tsvangirai is alone in calling for a poll boycott.

Sources revealed that civil society organisations and some Harare-based diplomats had tried to mediate between the differing MDC factions in a bid to avoid a potentially damaging split.

However, Tsvangirai remained defiant on Thursday, saying the senate would be a further drain on the country's shrinking taxpayer base.

Ruling ZANU-PF used its overwhelming majority in parliament in August to rubber stamp a constitutional amendment creating the senate.

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.

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