Tensions were high in Zimbabwe's capital Tuesday as Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change defeated President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party in the election for speaker of parliament. The election was set to be a close contest as several legislators were in prison at the time of the vote.
Former speaker of parliament Lovemore Moyo, loyal to Mr. Tsvangirai’s MDC party, won back his old post on a vote that indicated at least a few of Mr. Mugabe’s legislators also voted for him.
The main MDC faction narrowly beat ZANU-PF in the last parliamentary elections in 2008.
Tuesday's election for speaker came after the Supreme Court ruled that Moyo’s first election in 2009 had been illegal. So new elections were organized.
Although more than a dozen legislators from all three parties have died since the 2008 poll, the political agreement that is the foundation of the unity government prohibits by-elections.
Parliamentary watchdog Veritas said the lack of by-elections means that ZANU-PF and MDC held an equal number of parliament seats ahead of the contest for the speaker’s job.
ZANU-PF chose its party chairman, Simon Khaya Moyo as its candidate for speaker, while Mr. Tsvangirai chose to renominate Lovemore Moyo, who is also his party chairman.
The smaller MDC faction led by Welshman Ncube decided not to field a candidate for the post and initially said its handful of legislators would abstain. But on the eve of the poll, Ncube's small MDC said it would back Lovemore Moyo in the vote because the arrests of Mr. Tsvangirai’s legislators undermined democratic principles.
The most senior MDC legislator currently in prison is energy minister Elton Mangoma, detained Friday. This is the second time the pro-ZANU-PF police have arrested him this month. He has denied charges of improper conduct of his ministry in both cases.
Mangoma is disabled and walks with a limp. He was brought into the Harare High Court Monday wearing leg irons until his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa protested.
He could not secure bail in time to vote in the election for the speaker and has to remain in prison for a further seven days. Another two MDC legislators are also in prison awaiting release.
There was jubilation in the MDC ranks after Tuesday's vote giving the party the position of speaker. Since early this year about a dozen MDC legislators in Zimbabwe have been arrested and the police have banned all its rallies this month citing fears of civil unrest.