Turmoil within Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change over whether it should contest November senate elections took a sudden turn Wednesday as MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai found himself under fire from his second-in-command.
MDC Vice President Gibson Sibanda issued a statement via party channels accusing Mr. Tsvangirai of exceeding his powers in unilaterally declaring an election boycott.
Issued by the MDC Information Department, the statement said Mr. Tsvangirai had “willfully violated the constitution of the MDC and breached its provisions” by rejecting the outcome of a vote on Oct. 12 by the party's National Council.
The statement said the National Council vote resulted in 33-31 majority in favor of the party fielding candidates for the senate, with two ballots spoiled – which comports with what has emerged in the news media about the critical meeting.
The Sibanda statement said Mr. Tsvangirai “refused to accept the outcome of this democratic vote, even though he himself had immediately prior to the vote being taken, implored all members of the council to accept and defend” the outcome.
Since then, Mr. Sibanda charged, Mr. Tsvangirai had unilaterally issued instructions to provincial party leaders countermanding instructions from other senior party officials to begin nominating candidates, written to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission saying the party would not contest the election, and addressing rallies to the same effect.
“The president himself uttered threats and allowed other office bearers to utter threats against…party office bearers who had opposed his view that the MDC should not participate in the Senate elections,” said Mr. Sibanda. He accused Mr. Tsvangirai of making “disparaging statements” against those urging election participation.
Mr. Tsvangirai could not be reached for comment on the statement, and a spokesman for the MDC president said he had not yet seen a copy of the document.
Mr. Sibanda said in conclusion that the party “was founded on…democracy, freedom, transparency and justice. The party is determined to uphold these principles and values and will not allow one person or a group of persons to destroy them.”
The language implied that Mr. Sibanda was calling for the party to oust Mr. Tsvangirai if he persisted in refusing to ubmit to the apparent majority in the National Council.
Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Munyaradzi Gwisai, a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe and the leader of the International Socialist Organization, who was himself expelled from the opposition party.
Earlier, Tsvangirai spokesman William Bango dismissed reports that party members were planning a vote of no confidence in Mr. Tsvangirai. The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted “highly placed sources” at MDC headquarters saying a vote could be called next week after MDC senate candidates filed nomination papers.
Also in circulation Wednesday was a “situation analysis” apparently prepared by one of the MDC officials lined up against Mr. Tsvangirai over the election boycott decision. It referenced Mr. Tsvangirai’s “populist-leftist position” and mooted the suspension of the party’s longstanding chief with the consent of party vice president Sibanda.
But some MDC officials indicated in the document as proposed members of a working committee in that direction said they had nothing to do with this proposed strategy.
Before the emergence of the Sibanda statement, reporter Carole Gombakomba asked Tsvangirai spokesman Bango if the president was aware of such plans.
Mr. Tsvangirai is known to have accused party spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi and former MDC parliamentarian Renson Gasela, of advocating election participation out of self interest. Mr. Tsvangirai named the two men in the context of his allegations that some National Council members who voted to take part in the election were induced to do so by the ruling party, while others were pursuing their own interest.
Mr. Gasela, a former member of parliament for Gweru Rural, told reporter Carole Gombakomba that Mr. Tsvangirai’s comments were unfortunate.
There is also discontent in the ruling party. One member of the coordinating committee of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, in Makoni East, said top ZANU-PF officials are divided over who should represent the district in the elections.
Garikai Nathaniel Mhiripiri said ZANU-PF officials want to impose certain candidates, rather than allow them to be elected by supporters of the ruling party.
Studio 7 correspondent Sydney Sithole reported from Mutare.