Spokesmen on both sides of the division within the Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change say the party is unified despite the emergence of two camps, one moving to contest November senate elections, the other staging a boycott.
There was at least one indication of a widening party rift, though. The election boycott faction led by MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai was operating out of MDC national headquarters in Harare, while the other faction headed by party Secretary General Welshman Ncube had established itself in MDC regional offices in Bulawayo.
Mr. Tsvangirai has made the argument since early October that the party should stay out of elections for the upper house which is being restored through constitutional amendment legislation passed over MDC objections by the ruling party. He says the senate's main purpose is to bolster President Robert Mugabe's grip on power, and moreover that funding the new chamber is a waste of scarce resources.
Mr. Ncube says the party simply cannot cede electoral territory to the ruling party.
The crisis in the opposition deepened Monday as nomination papers for candidates in the name of the MDC were filed in 26 out of 50 elective senate constituencies.
MDC provincial officials backing Mr. Tsvangirai’s stance enforced an election boycott in 24 other constituencies around the country.
Tsvangirai spokesman William Bango said the national office would not recognize candidates who registered Monday as opposition candidates. Mr. Bango said none of the 26 candidates registered by nomination courts in Harare and the provinces was endorsed by the MDC National Council as the party’s constitution requires.
Mr. Tsvangirai’s faction questioned the legitimacy of the candidates who filed under the MDC banner. Mr. Bango called them “strangers,” and said provincial offices of the main opposition party will not support their candidacies financially or otherwise.
Tuesday in Harare the faction behind Tsvangirai announced it was expelling from the party all 26 of those who had registered to seek senate seats.
Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi filed a report from Harare.
Party Secretary General Welshman Ncube said his faction fielded candidates without endorsement by the national council because those taking the opposite position from Mr. Tsvangirai feared for their safety. Mr. Ncube accused Mr. Tsvangirai of violating the party constitution in overriding a national council vote Oct. 12 that produced a slim majority in favor of the party seeking seats in the controversial upper house.
Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Mr. Ncube.
Reporter Zulu reached Tsvangirai spokesman Bango, who said the embattled MDC chief shares the view of provincial officials who consider the candidates “dubious.”
In Britain, meanwhile, expatriate MDC branches declared support for the boycott of the senate election which Mr. Tsvangirai tried unsuccessfully to impose.