Zimbabwe MPs heckled each other during the first working session of the new opposition-dominated parliament today as negotiators tried to salvage the African country’s power-sharing agreement.
Riot police also broke up a demonstration staged by students outside the legislature. Witnesses saw at least three students bundled into a police van. A number of others were injured in a scuffle and had to be helped to a nearby clinic. Police did not comment.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who flew to Harare last night, was mediating talks between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai at Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare.
Mbeki brokered a deal on September 15 between Mugabe and Tsvangirai to form a unity government after the opposition narrowly won parliamentary elections in March.
But over the weekend, Mugabe said his party would control all key ministries, prompting Tsvangirai to threaten to quit negotiations.
The new 210-seat parliament that met today was the first controlled by the opposition since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980. At the official opening ceremonies in August, many MPs jeered Mugabe.
The speech Mugabe made then was debated in a lively session today, with MPs heckling each other. Mugabe was not present.
Speakers addressed the need for the unity government to be formed so the country’s humanitarian crisis could be addressed.
But opposition MP Sam Nkomo warned the new government should not be formed at “any cost”.
“There is a need to share power equitably,” he said. “We want to be genuine partners in this agreement.”
The MPs will reconvene tomorrow, when legislation will be introduced which is necessary for the formation of the new government. The constitution needs to be changed to create the post of prime minister, which is supposed to be filled by Tsvangirai.
Mugabe’s party and the opposition have been unable to agree on the allocation of Cabinet posts. The power-sharing deal calls for the opposition to control 16 Cabinet seats and Mugabe’s party 15.
Mugabe’s unilateral move to take control of key government ministries has been condemned by the European Union and the United States. An official list published Saturday gave Mugabe’s party portfolios for defence, home and foreign affairs, justice, mining and land, among others. The list assigned minor departments to the opposition such as constitutional affairs and water management.
While politicians struggle over the shape of Zimbabwe’s government, half the population – 5.1 million people – faces starvation, two-thirds of children are out of school and water shortages have led to deadly cholera outbreaks in three parts of the country, according to aid agencies.