HARARE — President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) is rooting to have Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chairman Jacob Mudenda become the next speaker of parliament.
The position of speaker of parliament in Zimbabwe now takes an added importance in the country’s new constitution. The speaker becomes the de-facto head of state in the absence of the president and his two deputies.
He can block the impeachment of the president by parliament and as the presiding officer in parliament ensures the legislature upholds the laws of the land.
Given that Zanu (PF) holds more than the two-thirds majority in parliament, there is little resistance expected from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led by Morgan Tsvangirai to block Mr Mudenda’s appointment.
Although with strong struggle credentials, Mr Mudenda has largely remained a political lightweight with his highest political office being that of governor of Matabeleland province.
Under the four-year-old unity government, the MDC-T’s Lovemore Moyo was the former speaker of parliament.
He beat Zanu (PF)’s candidate for the speaker post, Simon Khaya-Moyo, the former ambassador to South Africa, in a tightly contested secret ballot cast in parliament. Lovemore Moyo lost his parliamentary seat in the Matobo South constituency in the July 31 election and is understood to now be vying for the post of Bulawayo mayor.
Political observers indicated on Tuesday that Mr Mudenda’s election to the top of the third arm of government would be a further show of triumph for Mr Mugabe, who would rub the turn of fortune into Mr Tsvangirai’s wounds.
MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said the 70 members of parliament from his party would boycott voting for a Zanu (PF) candidate. “I don’t think the MDC-T will be able to provide a candidate for the speaker position as technically we do not have the numbers to win against Zanu (PF). We also do not support any Zanu (PF) candidate for the position and what it simply means is that we are not going to vote,” said Mr Mwonzora.
Mr Mugabe is expected to swear in the 270 legislators next Tuesday. The clerk of parliament, Austin Zvoma, said the seventh parliament would be the largest since independence.
Zanu (PF) is also likely to retain Edna Madzongwe as president of the senate.
Khanyile Mlotshwa, a political commentator based at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, said Mr Mudenda would acquit himself well and his law background would give him an upper hand.
“If Mr Mugabe has his man as head of parliament, then impeachment is as far as the moon ,” Mr Mlotshwa said.
Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst from the International Crisis Group, said Mr Mudenda’s candidacy was also an attempt to appease the Matabeleland provinces. “Zanu (PF) is going for someone who has the party allegiance but who is not overtly seen as a hard-liner, ” said Mr Maisiri.
The ascendancy of Mr Mudenda will maintain tradition in which Zanu (PF) has always reserved the speaker post for an individual from the Matabeleland provinces, as part of honouring the unwritten terms of the Unity Accord signed in 1987 with Zapu. “It is to maintain tribal lines, but also Zanu (PF) needs to leverage and maintain the momentum of the inroads they made in the last election in Matabeleland. So the appointment is also an appeasement to the region of Matabeleland,” said Mr Maisiri.
Mr Mudenda took over as head of the Human Rights Council from Reginald Austin. Prof Austin resigned from the post early this year, citing political interference and lack of sufficient resources. There is speculation that Mr Mudenda’s appointment ahead of the party’s national chairman, Mr Khaya-Moyo, could be a pointer that Mr Mugabe was preparing to elevate Mr Khaya-Moyo to the second vice-president. The post has been vacant since Mr Nkomo’s death in January.
Ever since the unity agreement between Zanu (PF) and Zapu, Zimbabwe has had two vice-presidents — one from each party.