Zimbabwe’s Senate revived amid cracks in the main opposition

SANF 05 No 102
Zimbabweans go to the polls this weekend to elect a 66-member Senate amid signs of widening fissures within the country’s main opposition party over participation in the election.

The party in government, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF), goes into the 26 November election with an advantage over the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), having won 19 seats unopposed. This means that only 31 of the 50 elective seats will be contested.

Zimbabwe has reintroduced the Senate or Upper House through a constitutional amendment 18 years after abolishing the bicameral legislative system in 1987. The Senate was initially introduced as a condition of the Lancaster House negotiations for independence in 1980.

The senatorial elections have threatened to split the MDC, with one faction led by the secretary-general in favour of participation and another group, led by party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, against taking part.

The pro-Senate camp defied Tsvangirai’s call to boycott the election by fielding candidates in Harare, Chitungwiza, Masvingo, Mashonaland West, Midlands, Matabeleland North and South, and Bulawayo.

Tsvangirai’s critics accuse him of violating the party’s constitution. On 12 October the MDC national executive council voted 33 to 31 in favour of taking part, translating to a 57 to 43 percent victory for the pro-participation camp led by the secretary-general, Professor Welshman Ncube.

A victory by Zanu PF this weekend will be a boost for the ruling party which made inroads in the March parliamentary election into constituencies previously dominated by the opposition. However, Ncube’s MDC candidates believe they can win the areas they hold in parliament and thus have a significant voice in the Senate.

Zanu PF won 78 of the 120 contested seats in the March poll in which the ruling party garnered a crucial two-thirds majority that allows it to make constitutional changes.

Apart from Zanu PF and the MDC, other smaller parties and independent candidates are contesting the senate elections.

In Masvingo province, two small opposition parties — Zimbabwe Youth in Alliance and the Peace for Action — fielded candidates in Masvingo and Chiredzi-Zaka constituencies.