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Zimbabwe Opposition Allies Urge Boycott of Senate Election

With the expanded leadership of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change set to meet Wednesday to decide if the opposition will contest late-November elections for the senate revived through a controversial constitutional amendment, the MDC is coming under heavy pressure from a range of allies to sit out the ballot.

The MDC executive committee was to vote on fielding candidates for the 50 elected seats – 16 others will be named by the president or filled by mainly pro-government traditional chiefs – or spurning the forthcoming senate as a club of cronies.

Opposition insiders say the MDC is deeply divided on the issue. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has all but declared his opposition to taking part in the election, while party Secretary General Welshman Ncube, is known to favor seeking a share of seats.

Mayor Japhet Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city and an opposition stronghold, has also declared himself in favor of contesting the senate seats.

But grass roots opinion seems to be against participation, not only on the question of the legitimacy of the senate but on the cost of the election and salaries for senators, which, say advocates of a boycott, the financially strapped country can ill afford.

The party’s closest civil society and organized labor allies are also urging the MDC to shun the senate – the National Constitutional Assembly, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, and the Zimbabwe National Students Union – arguing that the burden of related costs will hinder economic recovery.

For insight into the dilemma facing the MDC, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with political analyst Brian Kagoro, a former chairman of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition now based in Nairobi, Kenya, as African region policy and advocacy manager for British-based development organization ActionAid.

And as Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reports from Harare, the National Students Union has issued a statement saying that it will withdraw its longstanding support of the MDC if the opposition participates in the senate election.

The ruling party has its own problems. With seven weeks to go to the November 26 poll, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front has yet to come up with a list of candidates for the future upper house’s elective seats.

The party has announced that it will not hold primaries, and ZANU-PF National Political Commissar Elliot Manyika last week issued candidate selection guidelines to provincial party offices.

Nomination courts will sit in Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces on October 24 to vet candidate credentials, and inspection of national voting rolls will be closed off October 16.

Political scientist Farai Maguhu, now completing graduate studies at Africa University in Mutare, tells Carole Gombakomba that while ZANU-PF rammed through legislation reinstituting the senate and President Robert Mugabe set date for voting, the ruling party’s preparations look less than adequate given the scope of the exercise.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...