Officials at Zimbabwe's parliament say it will reopen next week, more than a month later than the constitution allows.  However, as Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare, reopening parliament before negotiations have not yet fully collapsed breaches the memorandum of understanding which led to the recent talks between the Movement for Democratic Change and ZANU-PF about power sharing.

According to senior Harare legal academic Derek Matszak, Zimbabwe's constitution has been violated by the delay in opening parliament. He said it should have opened last month as it has to sit once every 180 days even if it is immediately adjourned without appointment of a Cabinet.

He said the Movement for Democratic Change should participate in the opening as the winning party and should not violate the constitution as it represents all the people of Zimbawe not just political leaders.

However, in the July 21 memorandum of understanding, MDC majority leader Morgan Tsvangirai, ZANU-PF leader Robert Mugabe and MDC minority leader, Arthur Mutambara agreed that parliament would only convene following a final agreement for a government of national unity, or a complete breakdown in the talks.

Matszak said there are difficulties ahead if parliament does convene next week.

The first task of parliament will be to appoint a speaker, a powerful position that can tip the balance of the MDC as the majority party.

Should the MDC be unable to get all its legislators into parliament on the first day, and about a dozen are either in temporary exile or still in hiding, then it could lose that key post to ZANU-PF.

He also said that ZANU-PF Cabinet ministers who were not re-elected as legislators in the March 29 election would lose their posts and therefore their salaries and massive perks.

Among them are justice minister Patrick Chinamasa who is also one of ZANU-PF's two negotiators at the now stalled negotiations for a power-sharing agreement.

Ten other Cabinet ministers lost their seats and will immediatley cease to be on the payroll should parliament reconvene.

Matyszak said Mr. Mugabe can appoint five senators who would then be available to serve in the Cabinet when it is appointed.  He said The MDC would want to appoint some senators and deserves to do so, noting "that could be a problem."

The division of Cabinet posts between the two parties was a major negotiating point of the stalled talks.  In a statement made to the recent SADC summit in South Africa, Tsvangirai noted there would be 31 cabinet posts.  Mr. Mugabe will appoint 15, Tsvangirai 13, and Mutambara 3.

Mugabe would need to appoint MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to the senate to become prime minister if the stalled power-sharing negotiations are ever concluded.  Tsvangirai did not stand for election to the legislature as he was the MDC's candidate for the simultaneous presidential election.

He  won, but without enough votes to avoid a runoff. He pulled out ahead of the violent and delayed second round because of widespread state-sponsored violence against his supporters.

Mr. Mugabe continued as  the sole candidate and declared he had won on June 27 despite the poll being declared neither free nor fair by any  African observer group.

The secretary-general of the MDC, Tendai Biti, said Wednesday that  if parliament was opened it would take place without the party's agreement. He said the memorandum of understanding demanded consensus between all political parties.

The South African Litigation Center has handed an application to the Southern African Development Community's Tribunal in Windhoek, charging that Mugabe's attendance at last week's summit in Johannesburg contradicted the organization's treaties to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.