Tension within Zimbabwe's unity government is on the rise as the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai accuses its ZANU-PF partner in power sharing of twisting the law to chip away at its narrow majority in Parliament.
The party issued a statement alleging a "cynical and diabolical attempt" by ZANU-PF, which is led by President Robert Mugabe, to claw back political ground lost in the 2008 elections by trumping up charges against MDC parliamentarians. Several have been convicted and even sentenced to prison terms, jeopardizing their seats in the House of Assembly.
The MDC formation expressed dismay at the suspension this week of Chipinge West Member of Parliament Mathias Mlambo, who is now barred from attending sessions of parliament.
Mlambo was convicted of public violence by a magistrate in Chipinge, Manicaland province, and sentenced to 10 months. But his lawyers have appealed the conviction.
The Zimbabwean constitution says a legislator sentenced to six months or more in prison “shall cease forthwith to exercise his functions,” specifying furthermore that the seat shall be vacated 30 days after such a sentence is imposed.
Observers say the MDC has cause for concern: two of its lawmakers have been convicted on charges carrying a sentence over six months, and three more face charges which could lead to expulsion from the house. Most of those prosecuted come from Manicaland province, where ZANU-PF suffered heavy losses in the 2008 elections.
In those elections the Tsvangirai MDC formation won 100 seats to ZANU-PF's 99. The MDC formation of now-Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara won 10 seats giving the combined MDC formations (the party split in 2005) a 110-seat majority. There is one independent.
Elsewhere, the MDC is urging police to arrest ZANU-PF members alleged to have disrupted a national constitutional conference on its opening day Monday in Harare. The party said one of its members was arrested during the floor fracas, alleging bias on the part of police.
Chief Parliamentary Whip Innocent Gonese of the Tsvangirai MDC grouping told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the law is being applied selectively.
Responding to the allegations of bias in the justice system, Attorney General Johannes Tomana said the the MDC was unfairly dragging him into politics.