Mugabe Faces Power Struggle as New Speaker is Elected in Zimbabwe
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HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Mugabe suffered a major blow to his attempts to hold on to power in Zimbabwe yesterday when an member of parliament from Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change was elected as speaker of parliament.
Lovemore Moyo, the chairman of the MDC, defeated Paul Themba Nyathi, of the smaller MDC grouping led by Arthur Mutambara, by 110 votes to 98.
Mr. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party did not field a candidate, but ordered its MPs to support the Mutambara faction.
The indications are that Mr. Mugabe had been hoping to engineer a deal with Mr. Mutambara’s faction to exclude Mr. Tsvangirai from a government of national unity, and that enough of its MPs would support the government to enable it to function.
Peace talks between Zanu-PF and the MDC, being brokered by South Africa, are deadlocked.
In Zimbabwean politics the speaker has a powerful role, with the ability to determine parliament’s agenda.
“Whatever game plan Mugabe had has been complicated and this greatly diminishes his capacity to form a cabinet and govern,” a professor of politics at the University of Zimbabwe, Eldred Masunungure, said. “Mugabe is seriously weakened and he and Zanu-PF will have to take the negotiations more seriously.”
The house of assembly was packed for the vote, despite two MDC MPs being arrested before they could be sworn in — the opposition has raised fears that Zanu-PF will try to circumvent its majority by detaining its legislators.
In the parliamentary poll earlier this year, Mr. Tsvangirai’s MDC took 100 seats, Mr. Mutambara’s 10, and Zanu-PF 99, with one independent.
It was the first time Zanu-PF had lost its majority since independence in 1980.
Initially the MDC’s MPs sat down on the government benches yesterday, shouting at Zanu-PF representatives: “You sit on that side. You are now in the opposition.” They sang and cheered when Mr. Moyo’s victory was announced, hoisting him on to their shoulders.
Zanu-PF put a brave face on events. Emmerson Mnangagwa, its rural housing minister long seen as a potential successor to Mr. Mugabe, congratulated Mr. Moyo.
But in the internecine world of Zimbabwean politics, the result might actually work in Mr. Mnangagwa’s favor, by potentially hastening Mr. Mugabe’s departure.