Zimbabwe Opposition Wins Vote for Parliament Speaker

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Zimbabwe's opposition won the vote for speaker of the first parliament since disputed elections in March, apparently claiming votes even from the ruling party of autocratic President Robert Mugabe on Monday amid stalled talks over sharing power.

Shortly before the vote, police seized two opposition politicians as they entered parliament to be sworn in.

Despite the arrests, Lovemore Moyo won the key position by 110 votes to 98.

Mugabe's ZANU-PF party had been expected to win the vote but failed to put up a candidate. Instead, Moyo ran against a leader from a splinter opposition faction, Themba Nyathi. The distribution of votes in the secret ballot showed the opposition winner apparently drew support from both Mugabe's party and the breakaway faction.

Moyo's election brought cheers from the opposition, with legislators breaking into an electoral song declaring "ZANU-PF is finished!"

Moyo, who as speaker would preside over parliamentary debate, promised to "work toward a professional parliament that will represent the true wishes of the people of Zimbabwe."

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won more seats than Mugabe's party at March elections for the first time since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, when Mugabe took power.

But Monday's arrests and a government announcement that Mugabe had appointed loyalists to several posts were likely to fuel opposition accusations that the president is undermining stalled power-sharing negotiations.

One of those arrested, Sure Mudiwa, was held only briefly and later was among 208 of 210 lawmakers sworn in. But the second, Elia Jembere, did not reappear.

Jembere was among seven opposition activists police have said they were seeking, alleging they were involved in election violence. Mudiwa was not on the list, and the two uniformed and three plainclothes officers who made the arrests did not say why nor where the two were being taken.

In a statement, the opposition party said police also tried to arrest a third member, who is on a team trying to negotiate the power-sharing agreement, but he "was rescued by other MDC members of parliament."

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said he was unaware of Monday's arrests, and added "it would be illegal for anyone to be arrested while they were proceeding to parliament."

Independent human rights groups have said Mugabe's forces were responsible for most of the violence since the opposition won the most seats in March 29 legislative elections. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat Mugabe and two other candidates in presidential elections held alongside the legislative balloting, but did not gain the simple majority of votes needed to avoid a runoff. Mugabe and Tsvangirai have entered into power-sharing negotiations.

Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the Movement for Democratic Change remained determined to take up seats in parliament, which Mugabe was to open officially Tuesday. Chamisa charged the arrests were politically motivated, an attempt by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party to regain control of parliament.

Tsvangirai's party has 100 seats in the 210-seat legislature; Mugabe's party 99; and a faction that broke away from the opposition has 10. An independent politician who broke away from Mugabe's party, Jonathan Moyo, has the remaining seat.

Jonathan Moyo seconded the candidacy of Nyathi, indicating at least one ZANU-PF legislator must have voted for Tsvangirai's candidate, Lovemore Moyo. The two Moyos are not related.

ZANU-PF legislator Walter Mzemdi said the former ruling party decided not to nominate a candidate because "the figures were against us." He said ZANU-PF legislators were instructed to vote for Nyathi.

Tsvangirai had criticized the reconvening of parliament given the deadlock in power-sharing talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Leaked documents from the talks show Tsvangirai balked at signing a deal based on an offer making him prime minister with limited powers and answerable to Mugabe, who would remain president.

The documents show the prime minister would be deputy chairman of the Cabinet, and the president and the prime minister would need to agree on ministerial posts. With the prime minister reporting regularly to the president, Mugabe's power would be left virtually intact.

On Monday, state media reported that Mugabe had appointed eight governors and three senators, all ZANU-PF loyalists. One of the new senators, Patrick Chinamasa, is a Mugabe hard-liner who lost his parliamentary seat in March and who has led the ZANU-PF team in the power-sharing negotiations.

The opposition has argued that the appointed governor positions should be abolished, saying their only function is to provide power and salaries for Mugabe's cronies.

The political impasse has worsened Zimbabwe's economic meltdown. Official inflation is given as 11 million percent, but independent financial institutions say it is closer to 40 million percent amid acute shortages of food, gasoline, medicine and most basic goods.