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Zimbabwe Opposition Factions Weigh Arbitration to Resolve Senate Impasse

Leaders of Zimbabe’s divided Movement for Democratic Change are opening to civil society arbitrators who may be able to help mend the intra-party rift over participation in the Nov. 26 senate elections – though most likely not before the ballot is held.

MDC factions for and against the senate elections have expressed their openness to the proposed arbitration by two senior private legal practitioners whose decision would be binding on all party members, a source close to the discussions said.

But leaders of the two factions are approaching such arbitration cautiously.

MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai, who is urging party voters to boycott the elections for a restored upper house that he sees as a waste of public funds and a tool of the ruling ZANU-PF party, has said he will accept arbitration if the MDC National Council approves it. He says he will do whatever is necessary to reunite the party.

Tsvangirai spokesman William Bango told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the quest for reconciliation is a continuous exercise.

Deputy Secretary General Gift Chimanikire said the pro-election faction would meet on Saturday to consider the arbitration offer. But he reiterated his group’s complaint that Mr. Tsvangirai had violated the party constitution in overriding an MDC National Council vote Oct. 12 in favor of contesting the elections.

Responding to Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu, Mr. Chimanikire was noncommittal as to using arbitration to resolve the crisis, though he did not specifically rule it out.

Zimbabwean church leaders say they have not been formally invited to mediate the crisis, there have been contacts between senior clergy and opposition leaders.

Churchmen say they are deeply concerned by the rift within the MDC and in particular by recent violence between the supporters of the two opposition factions.

Rev. Sebastian Bakare of the Mutare Anglican Church said he and other clergy hope to get both sides to the negotiating table so that whether they reunite or go separate ways they can do so amicably. Zimbabwe is going through difficult times, said Rev. Bakare, and the schism in the MDC simply makes matters worse.

Bishop Trevor Manhanga of the Pentecostal Church in Mutare said the experience church leaders gained in trying to broker talks between the MDC and the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe prepared them to mediate the MDC quarrel.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe asks Bishop Manhanga about progress in the mediation undertaking.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo said that the two MDC factions had sought his help in solving the impasse.

Speaking with reporter Chris Gande of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, Archbishop Ncube said the hard-line approach of the factions could scuttle mediation efforts.

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