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Opposition MDC Speaker Elected in Zimbabwe Parliament


The chairman of the majority faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, Lovemore Moyo, has been elected speaker of Zimbabwe's parliament, the first concrete indication of the changes brought by elections in March. But as VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg, the day's events were marred by the arrest of two opposition MDC legislators, only one of whom was released in time to be sworn in.

Lovemore Moyo won by 110 votes of 208 cast in the secret ballot. The losing candidate represented the minority faction in the Movement for Democratic Change. President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF did not field a candidate.

The breakdown of the vote appears to suggest that Moyo got the support of most of the minority MDC legislators and at least two votes from ZANU-PF.

The position of speaker of parliament is one of the most powerful in Zimbabwe politics and for the first time since 1980 is not under the control of ZANU-PF. For the first time too, ZANU-PF does not have a majority in parliament - in March elections, the party won 99 seats against 100 for Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC faction.

The minority MDC faction of Arthur Mutambara has 10 seats, giving it a deciding vote in the event of a deadlock in the house.

The development has been welcomed by many Zimbabweans. University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunugure told VOA the election of an opposition speaker has seriously weakened Mr. Mugabe and will complicate his capacity to govern and form a cabinet.

And newly elected MDC Senator David Coltart told VOA Moyo's election is highly significant because ZANU-PF has lost legislative control of parliament.

Masunugure and Coltart agreed the speaker election boosts Mr. Tsvangirai's negotiating leverage.

Also, President Robert Mugabe appointed eight provincial governors and three senators. He may have delayed the appointment of two further governors and two senators in case there is a power sharing agreement with the opposition.

But these appointments appear to violate the Memorandum of Understanding he signed along with the two MDC leaders in July. In terms of that agreement, all such appointments were to be delayed until a power sharing agreement was reached.

The majority MDC has condemned the move, saying it undermines the talks. In a weekend interview with VOA, University of Johannesburg political analyst Adam Habib warned that ZANU-PF should not take any actions at the opening of parliament that appeared confrontational toward the majority MDC.

"And if it is meant to undermine the MDC, then it is likely that the MDC will react quite hostilely," said Habib.

Meanwhile, as the newly elected legislators arrived at parliament to be sworn in, police detained two from the majority MDC. Experts say their detention within the precincts of parliament is illegal. One was later released, but the whereabouts of the second remains unknown.