POWER-SHARING talks between Zanu PF and the MDC factions now hang in the balance, with the opposition saying Zanu PFâ€™s plans to convene parliament next Tuesday would be a “clear repudiation” of the framework for dialogue.
The controversial move to swear in MPs and senators on Monday before convening parliament on Tuesday has left the three political parties in the talks, Zanu PF and the two MDC factions, in disarray. The latest shift in events threatens to sabotage the negotiations that have been rambling on since July.
MPs will be sworn in by the Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma at 10am on Monday. This will be followed by the election of Speaker and deputy Speaker of parliament.
Negotiating parties have been frantically lobbying for the positions. Zanu PF and the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai have been locked in a bitter struggle for the posts, leaving Arthur Mutambaraâ€™s smaller MDC group well placed to tilt the scales, with a good chance of producing a compromise candidate.
None of the three parties has a majority in parliament. Zanu PF won 99 seats, Tsvangiraiâ€™s MDC 100 and the Mutambara faction 10 seats in the House of Assembly. To control parliament a party needs 106 seats.
After the MPs, senators will be sworn in at 2:30pm and subsequently there would be an election of president and deputy president of the senate.
Zanu PF is expected to easily win the posts if President Robert Mugabe chooses the five appointed senators and 10 provincial governors who are due to be sworn in on Monday as well.
Appointed senators and the governors, bolstered by 18 chiefs, would give Zanu PF an unassailable 63 senators in the 93-member Upper House. Tsvangiraiâ€™s party has 24 and the Mutambara faction six senators.
The issue of cabinet â€” which Mugabe might move to appoint if he secures a deal with some opposition MPs â€” appointment of senators, governors and the Speaker of parliament, are part of the talks. The process which might follow next weekâ€™s events could disrupt the already stalled negotiations.
Mugabe will officially open parliament on Tuesday. Sources said that Tsvangiraiâ€™s MPs are likely to boycott the opening session after they are sworn in on Monday.
Mugabe is unable to form a functioning government on his own after his party lost control of parliament in the March elections. This has created an unprecedented dilemma for him since he came to power in 1980 as he has to rely on the MDC to extend his rule, particularly after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on July 21 to guide the talks.
The MoU prohibits such measures as the convening of parliament without mutual consent by the negotiating parties. Mugabeâ€™s decision to assemble parliament has sparked off an uproar with Tsvangiraiâ€™s party which has warned this might scuttle the talks.
Sadc leaders at their summit last weekend in South Africa sanctioned the assembling of parliament “to give effect to the will of the people as expressed in the parliamentary elections held on 29 March 2008”.
It is said that Mugabe lobbied Sadc for approval to avoid violating the MoU and find a convenient cover for his actions. Mugabe also came out of the Sadc summit with a faÃ§ade of legitimacy after his counterparts tacitly acknowledged him.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s secretary-general Tendai Biti said this week the assembling of parliament would ruin the talks.
“Any decision to convene parliament will be a clear repudiation of the Memorandum of Understanding, and an indication beyond reasonable doubt of Zanu PFâ€™s unwillingness to continue to be part of the talks. In short convening parliament decapitates the dialogue,â€ Biti said.
â€œArticle 9 of the MoU signed on 21 July 2008 makes it clear that no party, during the subsistence of the dialogue, shall take any decision or measure that has a bearing on the dialogue, save by consensus. Such a decision or measure includes, butÂ is not restricted to, the convening of parliament or formation of a new government. In the present case, the MDC has not consented to the convening of parliament.â€
Tsvangirai initially said that â€œlet parliament be reconvenedâ€ â€” before he tried yesterday to shift his position to align himself with his secretary-general while in Kenya by stating that the convening of parliament would undermine the talks.
Tsvangirai told a news conference in Nairobi Mugabeâ€™s intention to open parliament next Tuesday was a â€œrepudiationâ€ of the MoU.
â€œA violation of the MoU will have to be dealt with by the mediator,â€ he said. South African President Thabo Mbeki is the mediator.
â€œIf President Mugabe goes ahead to convene parliament, appoint a new cabinet, it means he is proceeding to violate the conditions of the MoU which means he may have abandoned the basis for the talks but we donâ€™t know what his intentions are.â€Â
Sources said Mugabe is manoeuvring in a bid to outflank the opposition by luring some of their MPs through promises of government positions and other inducements to secure a parliamentary majority and form a new cabinet.
It is said Mutambara, who would be deputy prime minister if the talks succeed, could be amenable to a deal with Mugabe although he has denied it.
A number of Tsvangiraiâ€™s MPs have also been targeted by Zanu PF and this prompted the party last week to go public about it in an effort to keep Mugabe at bay.
The convening of parliament would come amid growing criticism that the current government â€” run by an old cabinet dissolved on March 27 â€” may not only be illegitimate, but also unconstitutional.
A group of lawyers monitoring parliamentary affairs said government was running without parliament for six months and this was unlawful.Â Â
â€œThe Constitution stipulates that the country should not be governed without a parliament for more than 180 days (Section 62).Â We are well past this (the 180 days expired in mid-July),â€ the lawyers said.Â
They also said the clause in the MoU which says parliament should not be convened before the negotiations are concluded â€œis merely a contract between the political parties, which cannot contradict the supreme law of the landâ€.
Mugabe dissolved parliament on January 24 ahead of March elections.
However, constitutional lawyer Lovemore Madhuku said the 180 days apply to the period between two sessions of the same parliament, not different ones as is the case now.
Madhuku said the real issue presently was that Mugabe did not follow the constitution when he took the oath of office on June 29, while parliament was not sworn in.
By Dumisani Muleya