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Zimbabweans Fear Arrests of Opposition Parliamentarians at Swearing In


The Clerk of Zimbabwe's parliament is expected to swear in elected parliamentarians today (Monday) ahead of the election of parliament speaker for the first time since the controversial March 29 presidential elections. Both factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have presented their candidates to vie for the position of speaker of parliament, while the ruling ZANU-PF party is yet to present its candidate. However, some Zimbabweans are reportedly expressing concerns that President Robert Mugabe's government would have the upper hand on who becomes the speaker by preventing opposition parliamentarians who are in hiding for fear of being arrested after various forms of allegations were leveled against them.

Glen Mpani is the regional coordinator for the transitional justice program of the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that today's swearing in could deepen the political crisis.

"The members of parliament are going to be sworn in by the clerk of parliament and Mugabe is going to convene parliament on Tuesday when he is going to open the seventh session of parliament. My take on the opening of parliament is that it just shifts the unresolved conflict of Zimbabwe to parliament where we are going to have the three contending parties using parliament as the way of extending the unresolved issues that SADC (Southern African Development Community) has failed to resolve in the negotiation," Mpani noted.

He said the MDC is not significantly opposed to Monday's swearing in of parliament.

"I think what the MDC is saying, that is the Morgan Tsvangirai formation, is that one, it is not against the swearing in of parliament, but it is against the reconvening of parliament on the basis that it violates the memorandum of understanding. And the Mutambara formation MDC is saying no it is consistent with what they agreed on and that it was part of the SADC communiqué," he said.

Mpani said the opposition sees the need to have its candidate to be new speaker of parliament.

"Like any other process where members of parliament are going to be sworn in, it is on that day that they choose the speaker of parliament. And for them not to forward an individual for speaker ship or to be the speaker of parliament I think they basically realize that they would be loosing an opportunity in which they can control the agenda and the events that are going to be taking place in parliament. Hence, they see the issue of forwarding speaker ship as very critical and important," Mpani pointed out.

He described as unfortunate the indecision and lack of message coordination by the MDC at the ongoing negotiations.

"What is important about all these issues is that the MDC I think the Tsvangirai formation for the past week they have been sending this mixed signal regarding the convening of parliament. Listening to different messages coming from the president and the secretary general and the acting spokesperson of the MDC, they have not been consistent on that. And if you look at the message coming from the Mutambara formation is that they are quite clear that they are going to participate in parliament. Despite all those mixed signals that are coming up, what is important in all these things is that how they are going to be managing the dynamics in terms of ensuring that they have got the speaker of parliament. And also see who is going to come up with their candidate being the speaker of parliament," he said.

Mpani said Zimbabweans would have to choose, which party's candidate would best represent their interest.

"I think the dynamics for itself are now quite clear, as the Mutambara formation has position itself heavily inclined towards the ZANU-PF. For whatever reason they have, I think whatever is going to happen is going to fortify the public perception that they have been swallowed on they are working with ZANU-PF and unfortunately that is going to erode their political standing. And secondly that is going to dent the image of them (Mutambara faction of MDC) representing a certain section of Zimbabwe that ideally from Matabeleland would not want to be inclined to ZANU-PF," Mpani pointed out.