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Zimbabwe Opposition Rescinds Decision to Participate in Senatorial Poll

The national council of Zimbabwe's main opposition party Saturday revoked an earlier decision to take part in the November 26 elections for a new Senate.

The national council of the Movement for Democratic Change has come out in support of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is against participation in the senatorial elections. Nine out of the MDC's 12 provinces were represented at the meeting.

The MDC has been involved in a very public internal dispute since October 12, when Mr. Tsvangirai vetoed a national council vote in favor of participation in the poll. Four of the six top leaders of the party favor participating, and accuse Mr. Tsvangirai of flouting the party's charter. They argue he does not have veto powers.

The national council also gave the 26 party members who put their names forward for seats in the senate seven days to withdraw them. Failure to do so would mean the candidates would not be standing on the MDC ticket.

The four party leaders who favored MDC participation in the vote, did not attend Saturday's meeting.

Amid speculation that the party is headed for a schism, participants at the meeting resolved to maintain the party's unity and integrity. The council also decided that Mr. Tsvangirai will be the sole spokesperson of the party, until the MDC congress, to be held by next February.

At a news briefing after the meeting, Mr. Tsvangirai also announced the formation of a four-member committee to mediate between the two camps of the leadership.

The Senate, the second chamber of Zimbabwe's legislature, was abolished more than a decade ago, but was reintroduced through a recent constitutional amendment. The MDC opposed the re-introduction of the senate, accusing President Robert Mugabe of using it to create positions for his cronies, who did not win election to parliament.

The opposition MDC, however, lacked sufficient votes in parliament to prevent passage of the amendment re-establishing the senate. Mr. Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, has a two-thirds majority in parliament, which enables it to amend the constitution without need of opposition support.

Mr. Tsvangirai questions the wisdom of participating in a poll, the result of which, he says, is pre-determined. The opposition party rejected the results of the 2000 and 2005 parliamentary elections and the 2002 presidential elections, citing massive fraud, violence and rigging.

Those in the MDC leadership in favor of participating in the Senate vote argue that by not contesting the elections, the party would be surrendering political leverage to the ruling ZANU-PF.

At stake in the November 26 poll are 50 seats in the 66-member senate. Traditional chiefs, widely seen as pro Mr. Mugabe's party, will choose 10 representatives from their midst, and Mr. Mugabe will appoint the remaining six senators.