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Support Swings Towards Tsvangirai in Opposition Power Struggle

Movement for Democratic Change President Morgan Tsvangirai appears to be gaining the upper hand over other top officials of the Zimbabwean opposition party who have broken with him over whether to contest or boycott a November 26 senate election.

Mr. Tsvangirai seemed to have been put on the defensive on Wednesday when MDC Vice President Gibson Sibanda issued a a statement accusing his party chief of having “willfully violated” the party constitution. Mr. Tsvangirai on Oct. 12 overrode a vote by the MDC National Council in favor of fielding candidates in the senate poll.

But over the following 24 hours, Mr. Sibanda and four other top officials lined up against Mr. Tsvangirai, including MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube, have maintained public silence, though party sources confirmed that its members had sought a meeting Thursday with Mr. Tsvangirai, which he declined.

Mr. Tsvangirai told VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe he is prepared to meet the members of the opposing faction on Friday, potentially setting up a confrontation between the leadership factions or, alternatively, a resolution of their disagreement.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tsvangirai has been building his support among MDC provincial offices. On Wednesday he had the backing of eight out of 12 provinces, and by late Thursday he had brought the Midlands North province on board and was believed to have claimed Matabaleleland North, which would make 10 of 12 provinces.

Should Matabeleland North fall into line, that would leave only Matabeleland South and Bulawayo provinces on the outs with the former trade union leader.

MDC grass roots opinion seems strongly behind Mr. Tsvangirai’s position that the party must boycott elections for the senate. The upper house was re-instituted by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front via constitutional amendments that it rammed through parliament in August using its two-thirds lower house majority.

E-mails received by VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe have been overwhelmingly opposed to participation in the senate election and in support of Mr. Tsvangirai.

“I write to urge MDC supporters not to be hoodwinked into participating in the forthcoming senatorial elections,” wrote one listener. “Those in the MDC who are agitating for participation know that these elections are meaningless.”

In Mashonaland West, one of the provinces to rally around Mr. Tsvangirai, local leaders suspended two officials for insubordination – both aligned with those pushing for the party to field senate candidates. The local party leader ordered members not to submit any candidate names to the nomination court meeting next week.

Correspondent Arthur Chigoriwo filed a report from Chinhoyi, Mashonaland West.

Two of the three MDC provincial offices in Matabeleland continued to oppose Mr. Tsvangirai: Matabeleland South and Bulawayo.

In Bulawayo, the capital of Matabeleland, party officials said they have the funds to contest the senate elections without help from party headquarters.

Bulawayo province spokesman Victor Moyo told reporter Chris Gande of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the provincial branch will hold primary elections next week.

Despite the intensification of the party schism, those opposing Mr. Tsvangirai even late Wednesday were positioning themselves to strike a compromise with him.

Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu spoke with Percy Makombe, a political analyst based at Leicester university in Britain, about the upheaval within Zimbabwe’s opposition.

Other political analysts say the wrangle has distracted the party from the real issues associated with the re-institution of the senate.

University of Zimbabwe senior lecturer John Makumbe said the MDC has been playing into the ruling party’s hands by giving the senate race attention it does not deserve.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba spoke with Dr. Makumbe and Dr. Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, who said the fact that Mr. Sibanda did not personally sign his Wednesday broadside should not obscure the issues.

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