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Two opposition factions unite in Zimbabwe

Times Staff Writer

The two factions of Zimbabwe’s divided opposition Movement for Democratic Change have reached a deal to cooperate in parliament and claimed Monday that some ruling party lawmakers had defected, steps that give them a solid parliamentary majority.

The MDC factions together control 109 seats in the 210-member parliament following March 29 elections. An independent lawmaker, Jonathon Moyo, said Monday that he also might side with the opposition in the new parliament.

One senior opposition source who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Times that 20 lawmakers from the long-ruling ZANU-PF party also had defected to the opposition camp, further boosting its majority. However, under Zimbabwean law, anyone crossing the floor to join another party must face a by-election to keep the seat.

The MDC deal followed an announcement Saturday that a recount involving 23 parliamentary seats had left results unchanged in 18 races, deflating the ruling party’s hopes of regaining a majority.

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Results of last month’s presidential balloting still had not been announced, amid signs of possible divisions within the country’s power structure. On Monday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission reversed an earlier announcement that the presidential election results could be expected by today, saying there would be a further delay for purposes of “verification.”

Many ruling party members have given up hope of victory should the results, as widely expected, force a second round of balloting between President Robert Mugabe and challenger Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC, sources in the party told The Times. Most now see their best hope as a government of national unity, said the sources, who requested anonymity.

The failure of the two MDC factions to unite before the elections cost Tsvangirai’s followers an outright majority in the parliament. His wing won 99 of the 210 seats. The smaller MDC group took 10 seats while backing a ruling party defector, Simba Makoni, in the presidential race.

Asked Monday why the factions did not unite before the election, Tsvangirai said it would have been “inappropriate.”

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“We couldn’t agree,” he said. “Now we have agreed.”

Tsvangirai insisted Monday that Mugabe should step down because of the parliamentary majority held by the MDC factions.

“In a parliamentary democracy, the majority rule,” Tsvangirai said. “He [Mugabe] should concede that he cannot be president.”

In fact, under Zimbabwe’s constitution it is the winner of the presidential contest, not the party that wins the parliamentary majority, who has the right to form a government.

The constitution calls for a second round of voting in a presidential election if no candidate wins 50% plus one, and independent tallies suggest that Tsvangirai failed to reach that goal. But he has ruled out participating in a second round unless international observers are present.

International pressure is mounting for Mugabe to step aside, with diplomats arguing that it is too difficult to hold a second round because of the wave of postelection violence targeting opposition activists.

The United Nations plans to discuss the crisis today. Tsvangirai called on the world body to send an envoy to Zimbabwe to investigate the postelection violence.

Moyo, the independent lawmaker, who once was Mugabe’s right-hand man and retains close ties to the ruling party, said the MDC could have won outright had it united before the elections.

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Nonetheless, he said, ZANU-PF’s failure to pick up seats in the recount had demoralized the ruling party.

“I think there’s a sense that these guys are so beleaguered, they’ve dug themselves a hole they don’t know how to get out of,” he said. “They have lost all hope.”

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com


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