Zimbabwe opposition tries to mend rift over poll

By Cris Chinaka


HARARE – Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has launched a campaign to reunite his Movement for Democratic Change party, threatened by a split over boycotting controversial Senate polls, h

is spokesman said on Sunday.


The MDC plunged into its worst crisis last Wednesday after Tsvangirai said he was using his authority to stop the party from participating in next month’s Senate elections.


He says the polls are part of a drive by President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party to consolidate its grip on power.


Tsvangirai’s statement was contradicted by party spokesman Paul Themba-Nyathi who rejected his boss’ version of a 50:50 split in the MDC leadership over the issue, saying its national council had voted 33 to 31 to contest the November 26 senate polls.


Political analysts say the rift in the MDC is likely to cripple its challenge to Mugabe, 81 and sole ruler since the southern African state’s independence from Britain in 1980.


A spokesman for Tsvangirai — who has been unavailable to comment since Wednesday — said the opposition chief had started a countrywide tour to explain his decision to party provincial and district executives, and to heal any divisions in the party.


“Mr Tsvangirai is going around the country and he remains convinced that he made the right decision that the MDC could not contest the senatorial elections with half of its members opposed to those elections,” said spokesman William Bango.


“Anyone suggesting Tsvangirai is acting in a dictatorial way does not understand the differences between dictatorship and leadership,” he said. “Mr Tsvangirai logically decided there was no point in going to fight an election when half the party is not going to join the campaign”.


Mugabe has said his ruling ZANU-PF party would happily consolidate its grip on power if the MDC boycotts the Senate poll, saying he would consider it a blessing.


But the veteran Zimbabwean leader says his party would sweep the senate elections even if the MDC participates.


Bango said a faction campaigning for the MDC’s participation in the polls would have to reconcile itself to the boycott decision because it would not be able to win popular support.


But the pro-election faction on Friday began considering candidates, saying the MDC’s national council was the party’s supreme body between congresses and its decisions were binding.


On Sunday, state media reported that the ruling party had selected dozens of officials as candidates for the November 26 poll, including veteran politicians and a retired army commander.


Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe of fanning divisions in the opposition and says the MDC needs to chart a new direction to tackle ZANU-PF over vote-rigging.


Mugabe denies he has rigged Zimbabwe’s last three major elections in the last 5 years to remain in office, saying the MDC is sponsored by Western powers opposed to his nationalistic policies, especially his seizures of white-owned farms.


But critics say Mugabe has ruined one of Africa’s most promising economies through controversial policies and a political patronage system aimed sustaining his rule.


Zimbabwe’s economy has contracted by 30 percent after a six-year recession, and the country is struggling with chronic shortages of food, fuel, foreign currency while inflation has risen to 360 percent, one of the highest rates in the world. — Reuter

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