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MDC Mutambara Faction Hit by Defection, More Expected

The faction of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Arthur Mutambara took a blow Tuesday with the resignation of its director for elections and parliamentary whip, Blessing Chebundo, member for Kwekwe in the Midlands.

Chebundo said he has rejoined the MDC faction led by its founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai, under pressure from his constituents. More defections are said to be in the works as Mutambara faction members grow discouraged at their president's seeming inability to drum up popular support even as Tsvangirai rallies draw thousands.

The faction now led by Mutambara emerged late last year after a group considered to be led by Welshman Ncube, former secretary general of the pre-split MDC, broke with Tsvangirai over whether to contest November 2005 senate elections. Tsvangirai was adamant that the party should boycott elections for a senate brought into being under ruling party constitutional amendments. The pro-senate faction won seven seats.

Mutambara, a student leader and associate of Tsvangirai in the 1970s, was recruited by the so-called pro-senate faction earlier this year amid high expectations. But since the rival factions held their respective congresses in February-March, Tsvangirai has consistently drawn larger crowds and generated enthusiasm among his grass roots followers by calling for protests and civil disobedience to topple the ruling party.

Chebundo was the second high-profile Mutambara faction member to cross the floor, following Binga parliamentarian Joel Gabuza, who joined the Tsvangirai camp during its March congress and reclaimed his post as spokesman on environmental issues.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asked Chebundo to explain why he decided to rejoin the Tsvangirai column of the opposition.

Meanwhile, a senior official of the Mutambara faction said Chebundo’s decision came as disappointment, attributing it to heavy pressure from the rival faction to jump ship.

Priscilla Misahairambwi-Mushonga, who is deputy secretary general of the Mutambara faction, told Studio 7 reporter Chinedu Offor that other members of her camp have been coming under similar pressure and what she described as "intimidation."

Despite Chebundo’s resignation and reports of more defections to come, Mutambara seemed determined Tuesday to continue with his efforts to build a popular base, addressing a political meeting at the University of Zimbabwe.

Reporter Offor spoke with Studio 7 Harare correspondent Irwin Chifera who said that the onetime student activist's speech drew only a few hundred people.

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