(AFP) – Aug 25, 2008
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) — The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won a vote for the speaker of the Zimbabwe parliament on Monday, hours after two of its lawmakers were detained by police.
The two members of parliament were detained in the parliament building just before the secret ballot for speaker, which was won by Lovemore Moyo of main MDC leader's Morgan Tsvangirai's camp who got 110 votes of 208 cast.
The MDC had said the detention of its members of parliament was a manoeuvre to influence the vote for a speaker in what was the first meeting of parliament since March elections.
But in the end President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party did not put up a candidate despite holding 99 seats in the 210-member house.
Moyo beat Paul Themba Nyathi who got 98 votes and had been put forward by a MDC splinter group led by Arthur Mutambara - which has 10 parliamentary seats.
The splinter group is said to hold a pivotal position in the country's power-sharing negotiations.
The lack of a ZANU-PF candidate could indicate internal divisions and a lack of consensus, said Laurence Caromba of the Centre for International Political Studies.
He said there may have been a strategic decision by Mugabe's party to support Mutambara's camp to prevent Tsvangirai from winning the position.
"Relations between Mutambara and Mugabe have been good lately...It's not inconceivable that the two agreed to work together in an attempt to retain control of parliament," said Caromba.
While the MDC control of parliament was unlikely to exert much influence on government policy, the ruling party had been "clearly desperate" in resorting to arrests, Caromba added.
"The fact that the MDC won despite these tactics is certainly an important psychological victory for them and a big blow for Mugabe."
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said one lawmaker, Shuah Mudiwa, was "literally pulled" out of the parliament building before the vote. "We have been informed they want to arrest 15 MPs. It's all about the vote for the speaker. Nothing to do with the law," he said.
"This arrogance has the potential of sinking the ship of our negotiations," Chimasa told AFP.
The MDC's director of information Luke Tamborinyoka later said: "Mr Shuah Mudiwa has been released but the honourable (Elia) Jembere is still detained but we don't know where."
Tamborinyoka said he did not know whether Mudiwa was charged or was released without charge.
The MDC attended the swearing-in even though Tsvangirai has said it could jeopardise power-sharing talks with Mugabe which were suspended two weeks ago.
Lawmakers were sworn in in groups of 10, with some of the 210 lawmakers having to stand as there was only seating for 145.
MDC lawmakers sat on the side usually occupied by Mugabe's ZANU-PF, heckling members of the party by shouting: "You sit on that side. You are now in the opposition."
Neither Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who is not a member of parliament, were present. Mugabe is expected to attend the official opening of parliament on Tuesday.
The March elections set off months of political unrest after Tsvangirai claimed that Mugabe fixed the presidential election result and later pulled out a runoff vote in June because of allegations of violence.
In March, ZANU-PF party won only 97 parliamentary seats with the MDC taking 100, while Mutambara's splinter group got 10. One independent was also elected to the 210-seat chamber, while ZANU-PF gained two further seats in June by-elections.
ZANU-PF controls 30 seats in the Senate, while the MDC has 24 and the Mutambara faction six. The chamber has no significant power.
Thirty-three Mugabe appointees -- traditional chiefs, provincial governors, women, disabled groups and other interested parties -- take the senate numbers up to 93 members.
ZANU-PF retained the presidency of the senate on Monday.
Zimbabwe's political unrest has worsened an economic crisis which has seen widespread unemployment and inflation now officially at more than 11.2 million percent -- while experts say it is even higher.
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