26. 8. 2008

Parliament defeat for Mugabe

Despite attempts to co-opt members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), President Robert Mugabe suffered a decisive defeat in parliament yesterday when the MDC's Lovemore Moyo was elected speaker in a secret ballot. The landmark victory for the MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, marked the beginning of the end of Mugabe's 28-year reign.

It also raised questions about the viability of a Zanu (PF) coalition with Arthur Mutambara - the leader of the smaller, breakaway MDC faction. Yesterday two MDC MPs were arrested and another threatened, raising tension as Mugabe was to open parliament today .

In a hung parliament, the speaker plays a central role and could take charge of controversial debates, if no power-sharing deal is agreed between Mugabe and the two MDC factions. The speaker can also act as president in the absence of the vice-president or senate president.

The parliamentary snub triggered a dramatic collapse of Mugabe's strategy to regain control and establish a working majority in parliament. His bid to form a new government after the power-sharing talks between Zanu (PF) and the two MDC factions stalled recently after Tsvangirai refused to serve as prime minister under Mugabe without an explicit guarantee that he would head a unity government. Mugabe is expected to announce a new cabinet soon.

But his party's defeat yesterday left him with the difficult task of forming a government without a majority in parliament -- something that is likely to paralyse his beleaguered regime. This has forced Mugabe to make offers to opposition MPs behind the scenes. Mugabe had planned to grab control of parliament by supporting the Mutambara faction's candidate for speaker, Paul Themba Nyathi, in return for backing in the house of assembly. If this had succeeded Mugabe would have retained control of parliament and formed a government.

Zanu (PF)'s failure to retain control of parliament through a coalition with Mutambara is bound to embarrass Southern African Development Community leaders who recently gave Mugabe the go- ahead to convene parliament despite a memorandum of understanding on power-sharing negotiations which prohibited the move.

Moyo was elected by 110 votes to Nyathi's 98. Nyathi had been supported by Zanu (PF) but his bid failed as MPs from his faction voted with the Tsvangirai camp after revolting against their leadership for supporting Mugabe's plan.

The composition of the 210-member parliament also shows that at least three Zanu (PF) MPs voted for Moyo - an unprecedented move that shifted the balance of power and marked a further decline of Mugabe's influence and rule. The defeat is expected to widen divisions within Zanu (PF).

Mugabe yesterday appointed eight provincial governors instead of 10 to the senate, leaving two positions for the Mutambara faction, sources said. It is understood he appointed three senators instead of five, leaving two positions vacant for Mutambara and possibly his secretary-general Welshman Ncube. Mugabe needed a way of taking them into his cabinet if their deal was to have worked.

The president and deputy of the senate are Zanu (PF) members, and the party has the majority in that tier of the government. Tsvangirai's MDC narrowly defeated Zanu (PF) in March, winning 100 seats against Zanu (PF)'s 99. The Mutambara faction won 10. A party needs 106 votes to control parliament.

Amid cheers from MDC benches and chanting that "Zanu (PF) is now rotten", Moyo said parliament would now provide the necessary checks and balances on the government and exercise cabinet oversight. "This house ceases to become a rubber-stamping authority but will provide robust and constructive debate," Moyo said.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Zanu (PF) leader in the house, said only: "On behalf of my party, I say congratulations". His colleagues were stunned into silence and looked shocked after the results. (ZWNews)

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