Zimbabwe's opposition party got a boost in its drawn-out power struggle with President Robert Mugabe on Monday, cementing control of the country's parliament with the election of Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.) national chairman Lovemore Moyo as speaker. Moyo won 110 votes to 98 for his rival Paul Themba-Nyathi, who represented a breakaway M.D.C. faction.
The win provides a rare piece of good news for the opposition amid a political stalemate that has endured in Zimbabwe since March, when the M.D.C. won a majority of seats in March 29 general elections and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, bested Mugabe in the presidential vote. (Although he failed to win the outright majority needed for victory.) In the aftermath of those gains, Zimbabwe's security forces and allied militias unleashed a campaign of repression against the opposition, culminating in a victory for Mugabe in a second round of presidential voting in late June in which the 84-year-old ran unopposed after Tsvangirai withdrew, citing the violence. The regime's conduct was condemned internationally and drew widespread criticism within Africa, prompting power-sharing talks, mediated by South African president Thabo Mbeki. With Mugabe and Tsvangirai deadlocked over who should hold greater power in a national unity government, the talks have produced no result since they began. Meanwhile, the harassment of opposition figures by Mugabe's regime continues. Earlier Monday, Zimbabwe's security forces arrested two M.D.C. lawmakers, Shuwa Mudiwa and Elia Jembere, and prevented them from attending parliament. They were later released without charge.
Mugabe's reconvening of parliament in the midst of power-sharing talks was widely seen as an attempt to put pressure on Tsvangirai by carrying on the business of government without him. If that was the intention, however, it backfired with the M.D.C.'s capture of the Speaker's chair. Nevertheless, seemingly underlining his intention to continue his rule, Mugabe also made a series of unilateral appointments of regional governors and ministers. M.D.C. spokesman Nelson Chamisa calls the move "scandalous and arrogant," adding the appointments "might jeopardize the talks". Thabani Moyo, a senior officer at the democratic pressure group Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe, agreed Mugabe's decision to "unilaterally appoint ministers without any deal" was worrying. "Tsvangirai might decide to pull out of these talks," he said, arguing the opposition leader's popularity means his participation in any government is crucial to its legitimacy and Zimbabwe's economic recovery. Battered by 80% unemployment and out-of-control inflation that hit 11.2 million percent this month, few Zimbabweans have managed to escape the effects of the nation's financial implosion. A need to resolve the economic crisis is perhaps the greatest impetus for talks to continue and an indication that Mugabe may find it tougher to rule singlehandedly than he had thought. "It is clear [the M.D.C.] are on top of the situation after winning the Speaker's post," says one Parliament member from Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity. "The way forward for the country is to continue engaging in talks so that we get a lasting solution to our problems."