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Zimbabwe Organizations Oppose Convening of Parliament 

Civil and non-governmental organizations in Zimbabwe are expressing their strong opposition to moves by President Robert Mugabe to open parliament officially next week. The organizations say the move would seriously jeopardize the recently signed memorandum of understanding between the ruling ZANU-PF party and main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC reportedly said that convening Zimbabwe's parliament would break a framework agreement governing power-sharing talks to try to end Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis. But President Mugabe's government rejected the accusation, saying the plan to convene parliament will continue as planned. Sydney Masamvu is a Zimbabwean with the International Crisis Group. From the capital, Harare, he tells reporter Peter Clottey that the move is against the spirit of the recently signed memorandum of understanding.

"I think given the spirit of the MOU (memorandum of understanding), which up front stated that within the spirit of the agreement, no party was going to convene parliament or formulate a cabinet before an agreement is signed. Moving to swear in parliament is in part a breach of the memorandum of understanding. However, we need to make a qualification there that the contestation in the talks right now is not about the swearing in of parliament is in dispute, but I think the most critical point, which ZANU-PF and President Robert Mugabe moves beyond that, he would be crossing the rules is assembling the cabinet," Masamvu noted.

He said it would be an affront to the ongoing peace negotiations aimed at resolving Zimbabwe's problems if President Mugabe goes ahead to name a ZANU-PF led cabinet.

"Assembling cabinet will actually be vesting authority in institutions, and I think that will amount to be in total breach of the negotiating process and by extension, it will undermine the talks," he said.

Masamvu said the MDC would not have significant opposition to the convening of parliament if it is based on the March 29 general elections.

"The opposition has no problem in the opening of parliament insofar as the swearing in of parliament comes in from the results of the March 29 elections, which by and large the MDC has actually stated that it reflects the will of the people. What the bone of contention is based on the March 29 elections, which leads to the swearing in of parliament, the assembly of cabinet put Mugabe in a position where he uses the June 27 results that he would use for vesting himself as the president to assemble a cabinet. And that is where the dispute is, and that is where it will undermine the talks and the spirit of the MOU," Masamvu noted.

He said the assumption on which the MOU was based is what could be the bone of contention with Mugabe's plan to reconvene parliament and possibly assemble a cabinet.

"When you read the MOU, it states that before the agreement is signed, parliament and cabinet should not be sworn in and the cabinet should not be assembled. But I think the MOU was based not only on an understanding, but also on an assumption by the facilitator that by then they would have rapped up the deal and there would have been a concrete deal on the table and all the parties would have signed up to it. So, I think this issues have been long drawn and it is a long haul and there is no signature appended to this process by all the parties. It actually brings into question the issue of a breach of the memorandum of understanding, which says parliament and cabinet shouldn't have been assembled," he said.

Masamvu described President Mugabe government's plan to reconvene parliament as despicable.

"I think the move is meaningless for the simple reason that what he can only get from there is that is how the issues of the speaker of our parliament is going to be nominated. I think that is where the only leverage is, but the battleground is the cabinet," Masamvu pointed out.

Meanwhile, the MDC says any decision to convene parliament would be a clear repudiation of the memorandum of understanding, and an indication beyond reasonable doubt of ZANU-PF's unwillingness to continue to be part of the talks. The MDC adds that convening parliament decapitates the ongoing dialogue. But Zimbabwe's government is accusing the opposition of flip-flopping. It charges that the MDC originally consented to the opening of parliament, only to turn around later to reject it.