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  • Zim opposition risks split over Senate elections
    Mail & Guardian (SA)
    October 16, 2005

    Harare - Simmering divisions within Zimbabwe's main opposition party over whether to contest controversial Senate elections broke into the open last week, risking a split in the party that would hand a victory to President Robert Mugabe.

    The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party that has posed the greatest challenge to Mugabe's 25 years of uninterrupted rule in the Southern African country, appears to have been wrong-footed by a surprise move last by the president's party to create a new legislative chamber.

    The MDC, which has survived the charging of its leader for treason and intimidation of its activists, could score an own goal by splitting over a relatively minor issue.

    Reports that the MDC was riven by divisions and a power struggle have appeared recently in both the private and state-controlled media.

    The splits within the party emerged into the open last week when party leaders issued contradictory statements on whether the MDC would participate in the November 26 elections to the newly created Senate.

    Party leader Morgan Tsvangirai announced a boycott, but hours later on Wednesday MDC spokesperson Paul Temba Nyathi said the party's supreme decision-making organ had voted to take part in the elections.

    Speculation has mounted in the media about a power struggle and policy differences between Tsvangirai and his lieutenants on the one hand and a group led by party secretary general Welshman Ncube on the other.

    The privately owned Daily Mirror and the Zimbabwe Independent cited unnamed opposition party sources as saying Tsvangirai had said he did not care if the MDC splits over the senate elections.

    Lovemore Madhuku, a pro-democratic constitutional activist and lawyer, has warned "the party will collapse if neither of the camps gives in".

    The MDC, which won nearly half of the contested parliamentary seats in the 2000 elections, eventually decided to contest parliamentary elections earlier this year despite concerns they would not be fair.

    Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF won 109 out of 150 seats in Parliament in the March election -- gaining a crucial two-thirds majority that allowed it to make constitutional changes on its own -- and in August pushed through the creation of a Senate.

    Tsvangirai argues against contesting the Senate election, saying its creation is an ill-timed and expensive venture amid the food and economic crisis wracking the country.

    Aid agencies estimate that about 4,3-million people out of Zimbabwe's population of 13-million require food assistance.

    The United Nations estimates about 700 000 people lost their homes or livelihoods, or both, in a government campaign earlier this year that razed shacks, homes, small businesses and market stalls in townships and other poor urban areas.

    Some analysts have criticised the creation of the Senate as no more than a way to create well-paid posts for ruling-party loyalists, and speculate that part of the split within the MDC may be due to those who stand to win seats.

    Mugabe said on Saturday he doesn't care whether or not the opposition contests seats for the Senate.

    "Whether they boycott or come into the election campaign, to us it's irrelevant, they are an irrelevant party," Mugabe said in his first reaction to the woes bedeviling the opposition.

    Several analysts said they believe the differences will be overcome and a break-up of the party avoided.

    "It's the kind of differences that exposes them greatly, but it's not a major policy issue, so I think they will be able to get over it," said political analyst Heneri Dzinotyiweyi.

    University of Zimbabwe political-science lecturer John Makumbe also believes that the MDC is likely to overcome "differences of opinion, differences of methodology".

    Nyathi said discussions are under way within the party leadership to resolve the differences.

    "The top leadership is meeting constantly to find ways to ensure that this thing does not paralyse the operations of the party," he said. -- Sapa-AFP

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