Unlike the usual jeering and interjections by MDC MPs when President Robert Mugabe last addressed parliament, this time they behaved honourably as described by the president at a luncheon held after the opening.
One would have thought that there was one political party in the House.
Political analysts have attributed such behaviour to the “fatherly manner” in which Mugabe presented his speech, something they said he has not done in a decade.
Describing the atmosphere in parliament during his speech, Mugabe said: “There was discipline in parliament. Last year MPs were still raw, they are polished now, they are dignified and they can be called honourable. Last year they were dishonourable.”
However some say there was nothing new in Mugabe’s speech, but that it instead managed to attract praise singing from the MDC formations, which if not careful could lead to the parties being sucked into Mugabe’s system.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said he was impressed that Mugabe was able to deliver his speech without arousing anger and that he had finally managed to be a true statesman.
Masungure said: “It was the demeanour and the tone Mugabe carried as he delivered his speech. I assessed it as statesman-like and this is something he has not done for a long time — more than a decade since this political crisis started.
“His speech was well balanced, level headed and concurrent not only with the letter of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) but with the GPA spirit and the inclusive government.”
Masunungure said even some MDC parliamentarians that he spoke to were equally surprised.
“I was impressed that he was able to deliver something without arousing anger like what happened in the first session of the parliament and when he finished his speech he actually greeted some MP’s across the divide.”
“I talked to one or two MDC-T MPs and they were pleasantly surprised. In a way they were disarmed, it’s like going into a battle and find that after carrying weapons your enemy does not have any.”
“Mugabe delivered his speech in a fatherly manner. It was a nation-building message. The three titles that always append to his name (head of state and government, commander in chief of Zimbabwe Defence Forces) are national institutions so he should be a national figure. After a long time, he has found his national voice and this is something that has to be praised for even if you don’t agree with Zanu PF.”
As the tradition, Mugabe and the First Lady, Grace drove to the House in an open Rolls Royce, accompanied by mounted police.
A small crowd of party supporters, frantically shouted “Gushungo, Gushungo” as the car drew close to Parliament Building.
When Mugabe got into the House, unlike at the first opening session when MDC MPs did not stand up, they all stood up.
Last year during the first session halfway through his speech when he praised former South African president Thabo Mbeki for facilitating dialogue with the MDC and also when he attacked rampant inflation, Mugabe was jeered and interjected by MDC MPs.
MDC MPs shouted things like “You killed people, we know that.”
When he talked about sanctions and the issue of the economic crisis, MDC MPs shouted “Zanu-PF is rotting.” and “We are together in the struggle, no amount of beatings and killings will deter us”.
On Tuesday it was the opposite. They all sat in silence as Mugabe delivered his speech. Mugabe said Zimbabwe was ready to engage the West with a view to normalising relations. He, however, stressed that re-engagement should lead to the removal of sanctions.
Mugabe said: “Our country remains in a positive stance to enter into fresh, friendly and co-operative relations with all those countries that have been hostile to us in the past.
“We will also continue to engage our international partners on a bilateral level through Joint Commissions of Co-operation and other treaties, in order to drum up support for our economic recovery programme.
“Following the launch of the Zimbabwe-European Union dialogue in Brussels early this year, our re-engagement with the European bloc is gathering momentum. However, as our inclusive government re-engages the Western countries, we expect those countries that have imposed illegal sanctions which have hurt and continue to hurt our economy and the generality of the people to remove them.”
He urged Zimbabweans to unite for economic turnaround, saying national development was a collective responsibility.
“Together, let us build the bridges of amity, forgiveness, trust and togetherness,” he said.
“Let us be the Zimbabwe united in body, mind and spirit. Only that way can we really succeed.”
However National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairman Lovemore Madhuku said it would be a lie to say Mugabe’s speech was different saying for the past years he has never used the opening of parliament to do anything other than that. Madhuku said: “To say Mugabe’s speech was balanced and mature is nonsense. Those are just partisan comments. There is absolutely nothing new about what Mugabe did.”
He said during the opening of the first session the jeers and heckling were a result of what had taken place and the “one man race” in which Mugabe won the elections after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai decided to pull out due to violence.
“The jeers of the last session were not based on content. They were based on the mere fact that Mugabe was opening parliament following the flawed elections,” he said.
A number of Bills would be tabled before the second session.
Among the Bills are the Human Rights Commission Bill to regulate matters related to the establishment of the commission, Public Finance Management Bill to spearhead economic recovery, Audit Office Bill, Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, Energy Regulatory Bill, Small and Medium enterprises bill to improve SME’s operating environment, amendment to the Education Act to address methods of payment of fees and levies, amendments to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Act and amendments to the Railways Act to provide for more deterrent penalties for the theft and vandalism of infrastructure.
The first session was criticised for closing without any significant discussion.
What promised to be healthy debates, however, turned out to be insignificant.
For instance, there was a motion moved by MDC-T Masvingo Urban MP Tongai Matutu calling upon parliament to set up a committee to probe Attorney-General Johannes Tomana on allegations of selective prosecutions.
Matutu accused Tomana of targeting MDC lawmakers for prosecution.
Zanu PF leader in parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa has since written to House of Assembly Speaker Lovemore Moyo saying the adoption of Matutu’s motion would create a constitutional crisis as the motion infringed on the doctrine of separation of powers. Moyo said he would seek legal opinion on the matter.
MPs also spent much time debating trivial issues outside parliament such as whether or not to surrender vehicles as ordered by Finance Minister Tendai Biti that had been loaned to them by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Masunungure said the first session of the parliament was not robust.
“They did not meet for a long time and they would break for a long time. The parliamentarians did not do anything about the GPA. They slept on their jobs,” he said.
“Hope in this second session is that they are going to be more awake as there is a lot to discuss. We can only hope, trust and pray that they will be more active and also hope that they will be the watchdog of the executive because that is their job.”
Madhuku said that there was nothing much to expect from the second session “except the beginning of praise songs for Mugabe as shown by the parliamentarians’ behaviour.
“Parliament will not have any meaningful discourse in this inclusive government because it is dominated by one group. Parliament without opposition will not have a meaningful discussion. In this second session we expect more and more speeches that give praise to the president. It will be the beginning of praise songs in parliament, something that we had forgotten about.”