The political future of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's divided opposition Movement for Democratic Change, is facing challenges. As Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA, many of his closest associates are openly expressing dismay with his leadership.

Recent attacks on two journalists and two women, allegedly by young members of Morgan Tsvangirai's faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, sparked a sudden outpouring of dismay from senior party leaders.

The criticism follows a dispute over the appointment of the leader of the party's Women's Assembly and has spread through Tsvangirai's faction of the divided party. Most of the legislators elected on an MDC ticket in 2005 oppose the appointment and some members of the Youth Wing have also expressed dismay.

Violence among youth and others loyal to Tsvangirai has dogged the party almost since its formation in late 1999 and was one of the main reasons the party split into two factions two years ago.

Now many of those who stayed with Tsvangirai at that time are angry with him. And some party insiders say this may negatively impact his role as the opposition's candidate to take on President Robert Mugabe in presidential elections due in March.

Last week Tsvangirai told VOA in a telephone interview, that he is not in a fight for his political life and that the controversy is all "water under the bridge". But party sources say Tsvangirai was holding meetings with individual legislators to regain their support right up until his departure for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Uganda.

Party official Roy Bennett, who lives in Johannesburg, told VOA the party dispute is not serious.

"There is no dissatisfaction among the members of MDC with Mr. Tsvangerai's leadership," said Bennett. "We have just had, on Saturday, every single one of our structures throughout the country had a meeting in the boardroom of Harvest House [party headquarters]. Every one [of the structures] was present, every one [of the structures] attended and there was absolute no dissatisfaction among those members."

Talks to deliver an opposition co-operation pact before next year's elections failed in May when the Tsvangirai faction rejected the proposal.

Analysts say the party dispute, one of many over Tsvangirai's leadership in the past three years, is embarrassing, particularly as both factions are engaged in negotiations with the ruling ZANU-PF. The talks are facilitated by South African president Thabo Mbeki, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community SADC.

While Mr. Mbeki has insisted on strict secrecy around the talks, some information has reached the media and it seems significant progress has been made, including an agreement on new electoral laws.

President Mbeki is in Harare meeting with President Mugabe and negotiators from both sides. Opposition legislator Trudy Stephenson says Zimbabweans have cause for celebration over the negotiations. She said the new laws give Zimbabweans the framework for free and fair elections.

Previous election laws, analysts say, favored the ruling ZANU-PF party and made it difficult for many opposition supporters to be registered or cast their vote.

In 2000 the MDC, when it was only nine months old, made political history by appealing to voters across tribal and racial lines and came within a whisker of defeating ZANU-PF.