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Key vote stalls Mugabe's march
Jason Moyo, Mail and Gaurdian (SA)
April 01, 2011

A rare defeat at the hands of his opponents in a vote for the speaker of Zimbabwe's Parliament this week checked the momentum President Robert Mugabe has built up in his march towards an unpopular election later this year.

Lovemore Moyo, the chairperson of Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) faction, was voted into the key position, defeating Zanu-PF's Simon Khaya Moyo, also chairperson of his party. In recent weeks Tsvangirai appeared cornered - senior officials of his party were being arrested and police banned MDC rallies on the pretext that an uprising would be sparked if they were allowed.

Had Zanu-PF won the vote it would have added impetus to its crusade to drive the MDC out of the unity government and force a fresh election. Tsvangirai had been meeting regional leaders ahead of a meeting of the Southern African Development Community troika on defence and security on Thursday, hoping to convince them to stall Mugabe's bid to hold elections amid indications that they will not be free and fair.

With Zimbabwe's Parliament finely balanced, the seat of speaker is critical as the holder has influence over how legislation is formulated. However, in the bitter fight for power in the coalition, the victory had a more symbolic significance. Following the vote, MDC MPs sang and danced in Parliament to celebrate a rare victory over Mugabe. Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary general, said: "What happened today is that evil will never triumph over good."

The vote was ordered after the Supreme Court ruled that the previous election that had seen the MDC take the post -- the first time a non-Zanu-PF official had been speaker -- was flawed. MDC MPs invalidated the poll by showing their ballots to their leaders before voting, the court ruled.

'Civilised thing to do'

Jonathan Moyo, the Zanu-PF MP who brought the court action reversing the 2008 vote, said the "civilised thing to do" would be to congratulate the winner. The day of the vote itself was one of high drama as the MDC paraded $25 000 in wads of cash it claimed had been offered as bribes to its MPs to convince them to vote for the Zanu-PF candidate.

Ahead of the vote Energy Minister Elton Mangoma was arrested, for the second time in a month, in connection with a state tender, raising fears that Zanu-PF was looking to reduce the MDC's numbers. Mangoma did not vote, but five other MPs facing various charges were able to make their cross. Theresa Makone, co-minister of home affairs, the ministry in charge of the police, reappeared on the day of the vote after days of speculation that she was in hiding from the police.

The arrests and threats of arrest threatened to whittle down the numbers of the MDC in Parliament. This and the crackdown on rallies were what prompted Tsvangirai to seek help from regional leaders. Last week he met President Jacob Zuma at Nkandla, asking him to press Mugabe to stop cracking down on his opponents and stick to the agreed roadmap for elections.

Returning from the regional tour, during which Tsvangirai met the leaders of Zambia, Mozambique and Namibia, Tsvangirai said that he had told Zuma that Mugabe was no longer in charge but that "dark and sinister forces" in the security system had taken over.

That both factions of the MDC united for the vote renewed calls for them to end their differences and forge a united front against Mugabe. But this is unlikely to happen, as the leaders of the two factions remain bitterly opposed.

Welshman Ncube, who heads the smaller MDC faction, said ahead of the vote that although his party would back Tsvangirai's candidate, he would do so more to "protect fundamental democratic principles" than because his party was ready for any accommodation.

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