Now that both factions of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change have joined the ruling ZANU-PF party in passing a constitutional amendment that will significantly modify the country's electoral dispensation, they are turning to the task of defending that strategy to skeptical supporters and critical civil society allies.
MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai and rival faction chief Arthur Mutambara are characterizing the opposition's collective support in parliament of the amendment legislation as a strategic step towards assuring free and fair elections next year.
Critics said the MDC should have held out for a full revision of the constitution. Senior MDC officials insist that they will continue to seek a new Zimbabwean constitution.
Tsvangirai explained the strategy Friday to his faction's executive committee, calling it a "first step towards the final resolution of the national crisis" and "a bold and correct decision the party has taken to locate the exit points to the political logjam."
He said the negative reaction to the opposition’s support of the bill among rank and file members and elements of civil society “understandably arises out of the people’s mistrust” of the ruling party and less than complete information on the South African-mediated crisis resolution talks from which the constitutional compromise arose.
"We are confident that the party remains on the right track in the quest for a lasting solution to the national crisis,” the statement quoted Tsvangirai as saying.
He added that it was “premature to judge the direction and outcome of the dialogue process” based solely on the opposition vote for the amendment legislation, which has cleared the house and goes to the senate next week for passage there.
The amendment's most controversial provision leaves it to parliament to select a new president if the incumbent dies, is incapacitated or resigns - the last of these being a potential exit strategy for President Robert Mugabe who seeks re-election in the presidential ballot set for March, but has hinted he won't serve out his term.
Critics fear that if ZANU-PF retains control of parliament - it claimed a two-thirds house majority in the 2005 general election - Mr. Mugabe could select his successor.
One tradeoff for the opposition in the amendment as passed by the house is that the president will no longer fill seats in the lower house by appointment.
Tsvangirai declared in conclusion that his formation is "committed to a people-driven constitution. we are committed to a free and fair election. we are committed to a legitimate and not a pre-determined outcome.”
Meanwhile, in Bulawayo on Saturday, rival faction leader Arthur Mutambara and other top officials of his formation delivered much the same message to their supporters, about 350 of whom filled Pumula Hall in a morning session
Correspondent Netsai Mlilo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported on the rally.