- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s main opposition party appears headed for a split after 26 members defied their leader’s call to shun elections to a fiercely disputed new Senate, analysts said yesterday.

Rejecting Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision, 26 party members registered as candidates on Monday for the Nov. 26 elections to the new upper house of parliament, which critics say is aimed at strengthening the stranglehold President Robert Mugabe’s party has on the legislature.

Political and rights analyst Lovemore Madhuku said the cracks in the six-year-old party, which has posed the biggest challenge to Mr. Mugabe’s 25-year reign, could only widen now and could only lead to a split or leadership change.

“There is no doubt that if [Mr. Tsvangirai] disciplines those who registered to participate, there will be a major split because these candidates claim they belong to MDC,” Mr. Madhuku said.

Tsvangirai spokesman William Bango said: “This is a political issue and he is looking for a political solution.”

The Senate is the newly created 66-member upper house of parliament, comprising 10 traditional chiefs, 50 elected senators and six persons appointed by Mr. Mugabe.

The new upper house was created after the ruling party won a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections earlier this year, which gave it the power to push through constitutional amendments on its own.

The MDC, at the last minute, decided to contest the May parliamentary elections, saying it was doing so with deep misgivings and a “heavy heart.”

However, two weeks ago Mr. Tsvangirai announced that the party would boycott elections to the Senate, saying elections in the southern African nation were a farce and that the economic and food crisis plaguing the nation made the ballot a luxury the nation could ill afford.

But hours later, MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said the party’s supreme decision-making organ had voted to take part in the elections.

Despite the apparent rift, MDC leaders insist the party is still intact.

Mr. Tsvangirai and party Secretary-General Welshman Ncube have scoffed at reports of a power struggle and have publicly posed for photographers, smiling at each other and shaking hands.

“There are no signs of a split,” party Vice President Gibson Sibanda said, “it’s simply that there are some differences in issues and the approach to those issues.”

The MDC won nearly half of the contested parliamentary seats in the 2000 elections, six months after its formation. But its electoral showing has flagged since then.

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