27 Aug 2008

Opposition MDC wins key speaker post in Zimbabwe

2:00 pm on 27 August 2008

Zimbabwe's main opposition party won the vote for parliament's speaker on Monday, dealing a blow to President Robert Mugabe in a post-election power struggle.

Lovemore Moyo of the Movement for Democratic Change got 110 votes in the 210-member assembly, giving the opposition one of the most powerful positions in Zimbabwean politics for the first time since independence in 1980.

Mr Moyo comfortably beat a candidate put up by a breakaway opposition faction and backed by Mr Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, a sign the veteran leader may be unable to use parliament to get his way in deadlocked power-sharing talks.

Opposition MPs broke into song after the result, mocking Zanu-PF as a dying party. Zanu-PF won a later vote for the presidency of the upper house of parliament, the senate - where it has a majority - meaning it can block legislation passed by parliament.

Its senate leadership victory underlines the delicate balance of power in the legislature. The MDC, with support from MPs of a breakaway faction, can pass some bills in the lower house but these can be blocked in the senate.

Mr Mugabe intends officially to open parliament on Tuesday despite protests by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC party, which says this would scuttle negotiations on forming a unity government. Mr Tsvangirai's party did not object to the swearing-in.

MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti said the party might take part in the opening of parliament out of respect for the new speaker but that "must not be construed as recognition of Mugabe" as the country's president.

Negotiations between ZANU-PF and the MDC have stalled over what the opposition says is Mr Mugabe's refusal to give up executive power after 28 years in office.

The deadlock, in spite of strong regional and international pressure for a deal, has dampened hopes of an agreement that could end the political crisis and revive the broken economy.

In Zimbabwe's hung parliament, the speaker will be able to take charge of controversial debates if there is no power-sharing deal. The speaker can also act as president in the absence of the vice-president or senate president.

Mr Mugabe's party lost control of parliament in March elections for the first time since independence from Britain, winning 99 seats, but Mr Tsvangirai's party won only 100 seats so does not have an absolute majority either.

That leaves control in the hands of Mr Mutambara's breakaway wing of the MDC, which has 10 seats. There is one independent.