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Zimbabwe Opposition Tries to Compose Differences Over Senate Election

Divisions within Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change over whether or not to contest November senate elections are deepening amid reports that some senior party officials may boycott a mediation session set for later this week.

Party spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi confirmed it is possible that the deeply divided party may seek outside assistance in resolving the dispute, which has pitted President Morgan Tsvangirai against a number of senior headquarters and provincial officials.

Mr. Tsvangirai overrode a close Oct. 12 vote by the MDC National Council in favor of contesting elections to select 50 of 66 members of the reconstituted senate brought forth by the ruling party through constitutional amendment legislation.The opposition opposed the amendment bill but the ruling party holds a two-thirds majority.

Provincial party branches are split in the matter, though Mr. Tsvangirai received a boost on Tuesday when the party provinces of Manicaland and Midlands South came down in support of his position. However, the MDC stronghold of Matabeleland is determined to field candidates, and others are moving in the same direction.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reached MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi late Tuesday to ask him where matters stood.

Election preparations moved ahead. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission extended the deadline for voter registration and list inspection, which expired on Sunday. And nomination courts are scheduled to sit around the country next week.

Mr. Tsvangirai has formally notified the election commission that the MDC will not field candidates in the Nov. 26 election. Electoral Commission Chairman George Chiweshe told Studio 7, however, that he has no jurisdiction over party nominations.

Zimbabwe’s Electoral Act says an aspiring candidate must be nominated by 10 people from the same province, and that a senior party official must sign the nomination form.

Legal expert Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, said any any senior party official can endorse such nominations – meaning that Mr. Tsvangirai cannot prevent other senior officials from giving candidates the nod.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba asked Justice Chiweshe about such developments. He first explained why he extended the voter registration and list inspection process.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network Chairman Reginald Matchaba Hove commented that the senate elections are already marred by disorganization and confusion.

Dr. Hove told Carole Gombakomba that given developments in the MDC and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, the elections do not look promising.

MDC officials in several provinces say they plan primary elections this week to select candidates to contest the senate elections. Such opposition officials say they support the National Council in the controversy over Mr. Tsvangirai’s executive powers.

Babongile Dlamini reported from the Matabeleland capital of Bulawayo.

MDC politicians eager to contest the senate election claim the support of the rank and file. But on Harare streets, some Zimbabweans question whether there is actually any need for the election, reports Studio 7 correspondent David Mutomba.