Zimbabwe’s parliament has expelled 17 lawmakers who split from the opposition MDC -T party. The move further weakens an already fragmented opposition.
The expelled legislators, who include former Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti have vowed to challenge the decision to remove them from the National Assembly.
According to Zimbabwe's constitution, any lawmaker who defects or forms another political party, will have their seat declared vacant. A fresh by-election then has to be conducted within 90 days.
Biti, a former Secretary General of the Movement for Democratic Change, as well as an ex-minister, fell out with party leader Morgan Tsvangirai last April. Biti tried to unseat Tsvangirai who then subsequently expelled him from the party.
Biti described the expulsions as a heavy blow to democracy and the democratisation agenda in Zimbabwe. "To think that the vibrant MDC bench that has been victimised will not be voices in parliament is a great tragedy," he told DW.
Zimbabwe's parliamentary speaker Jacob Mudenda said he had reached a decision to expel the legislators and four members of the Upper Senate, after they failed to act upon a request by MDC leader Tsvangirai.
This month, Tsvangirai who is a former prime minister, wrote to parliament asking it to remove what he referred to as "renegade members" for allegedly abandoning the party. Tsvangirai, 63, has led the MDC since it was founded in 1999. He was re-elected again in November.
Paul Madzore, one of the MDC members who were shown the door, told NewsDay, a Zimbabwean online daily, that they were not concerned by what has happened. "This issue caused by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mwonzora is a non-event," Madzore said.
"As a party, we will respect the law and respond accordingly. It was unnecessary and is a slap in the face of the people. We are not moved or disturbed and we remain focused on the plight of the people," Madzore said.
Willias Madzimure, who suffered the same fate as Madzore, said it was the people of Zimbabwe who had lost. "I was elected by the people of Kambuzuma and have represented them well for the past 14 years. The MDC-T has danced to the tune of ZANU- PF," Madzimure said.
The expulsion of the members risks weakening the already fragmented opposition. Interestingly, MDC says it will not take part in any by-election citing an uneven playing field.
MDC's loss is ZANU –PF's gain
In an article published in the New Zimbabwean, the country's Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who lost in the 2013 elections to MDC's Roseline Nkomo, has vowed to reclaim the seat in the forthcoming by-election. Nkomo is one of those expelled from parliament and since MDC won't be contesting her seat, it would probably be won by ZANU-PF's Moyo.
Zimbabwean political analyst Charles Mangongera believes the MDC's break-up works in favor of ZANU-PF. "Certainly, ZANU- PF is going to increase its stranglehold on the legislative chamber even if the MDC -T is to rescind on its decision that they are not going to participate in elections," Magongera told DW in an interview.
"If you look at some of the seats that they (MDC-T) won in 2013, they won those seats with very small margins. So now that they are divided I think it will be very difficult to win those seats," Magongera said. He says he will not be surprised if ZANU- PF wins a number of significant seats that are now vacant. "I think ZANU-PF is the winner. But who is clearly the loser? In this case, it's the citizens of this country."
President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF already enjoys a commanding two-thirds majority in parliament. Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC-T is second with 91 seats.