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Zimbabwe's Divided Opposition Holds Congress


In Zimbabwe, thousands of delegates loyal to Morgan Tsvangirai, the president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, are gathering in the capital for the party's congress. The meeting is meant to reinvigorate a party split by division last year.

On the agenda of the MDC congress is the election of officers, some of whom will step into positions left vacant by those who broke away from the party.

Party chairman Isaac Matongo told VOA that Morgan Tsvangirai is the only candidate for the post of president. Matongo said the issue of the other faction that also claims to be the MDC is not on the agenda. He said members of that faction, if they wish, could rejoin the party as rank and file members, not leaders.

Matongo also said the meeting will discuss how to deal with President Robert Mugabe's government and the current economic problems facing the country.

"The turnaround of the economy of this country can only be done by [the] MDC, but we have tried elections -- we have tried everything. I think we have to change the tactic, the road map has got to change and we are going to do it after congress. The people will choose because we are looking at the people's power and the people are the ones who are going to make the change."

Founded in 1999, the MDC has been the most serious challenge to Mr. Mugabe's 26-year rule. The party came close to beating Mr. Mugabe's Zanu-P.F. party in the 2000 general and the 2002 presidential elections. Both elections were characterized by violence, intimidation and allegations of rigging, leading local and international observers to conclude they were neither free nor fair.

Analysts, however, say the party has been weakened by its split last October over whether or not to participate in a poll for the reintroduced second chamber of parliament, or Senate.

At first, the MDC had appeared to be united in its opposition to the reintroduction of the senate, fearing it would give the ruling Zanu-PF party even more power. But after ZANU-PF used its parliamentary majority to bring back the senate, the national council of the MDC narrowly voted for participation in the election of senators. Tsvangirai overruled that decision, leading senior party members who favored participation to go to the courts to try to remove him as president.

After the High Court upheld Tsvangirai's leadership, the pro-senate faction held its own congress. At that meeting, Arthur Mutambara, a former student activist who had been out of Zimbabwe for the past 15 years, was elected president.

Mutambabra has publicly called for the reunification of the two sides, but MDC chairman Matongo said he has not approached Tsvangirai's group. He added that in any case there is no room for Mutambara in the MDC Matongo also said as far as he is concerned there is just one MDC, and it is led by Tsvangirai and this weekend's congress is going to confirm this.