MDC MPs told not to heckle Mugabe during opening of Parliament

mdc_symbolA rather subdued Robert Mugabe finally opened the Second Session of the Seventh Parliament on Tuesday, where Morgan Tsvangirai was also present at the official opening for the first time as Prime Minister.

Several parliamentarians also said that for the first time there were no tensions in the House while Mugabe was delivering his speech which was ‘relatively devoid of his usual nastiness.’ Observers say it appears the political rivals may have made some concessions to be ‘civil with each other’. Last August Mugabe was humiliated and left rattled after MDC-T parliamentarians jeered, heckled and sang ‘ZANU PF is rotten’ during his speech, but there was none of that this time around. Some MDC MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were told by the top leadership in the inclusive government not to repeat last year’s performance.

One of the MPs said the instructions came via the party’s chief whip in parliament, Innocent Gonese, who allegedly told the MPs there would be no heckling. One disappointed MP said: “It was one of those sad and boring days in parliament where you just sat there and listened to an old, sickly man delivering another useless message to the nation.” However Gonese denied ordering the legislators not to boo Mugabe. But he pointed out: “There was a general discussion that this time things had to be done a bit differently and we obviously discussed with members that we did not expect there to be the heckling or the singing that characterised last year’s opening. But generally the MPs I spoke to were appreciative of the need to have that different approach.”

The MDC Chief Whip told SW Radio Africa that this was because things were very different last year, as it was before the inception of the inclusive government and decisions were being made unilaterally by ZANU PF. He said this time around the Prime Minister was in chambers, as compared to the last time when he was not even sworn in as an MP. Gonese said the environment was completely different and relatively jovial Tuesday. Meanwhile in his opening speech, Mugabe told the House that Zimbabwe is ready for new and friendly relations with the West. He said: “Our country remains in a positive stance to enter into fresh, friendly and cooperative relations with all those countries that have been hostile to us in the

past.” Just two weeks ago Mugabe accused western countries of trying to divide the coalition government. Of course he didn’t lose the opportunity to also point out that the lifting of the targeted sanctions was essential for this to become a reality.

Mugabe said the inclusive government would consult people on the issue of creating a new constitution, although he revealed that the political parties’ negotiators will be part of a management committee to head the constitution making process. There are fears that this management committee will remove the authority of the Parliamentary Select Committee, which is supposed run the affairs of the constitution making process. If this happened it would put the constitutional process directly under the control of the political parties. The negotiators on the management committee are the same people who came up with the controversial Kariba Draft constitution, which has been rejected by the MDC-T itself and civil society, because it is not people driven. However Gonese insisted that while the political parties have now more direct involvement, it does not mean they are taking over control of the process. He said the three co-chairpersons of the Parliamentary Select Committee will also be part of the new management structure.

The Chief Whip said the Principals decided to create the management committee, to speed up the constitution making process which has been hit by severe delays. “There have been some challenges on the funding and there have been some misunderstandings between some of the key players. But we are now hoping that that this (management structure) will smooth things in such a way that the work of the committee will now proceed without hindrance and hope that now there will be less room for misunderstandings and hopefully

that this process will be concluded sooner rather than later,” said Gonese. The Parliamentary Select Committee is co-chaired by Douglas Mwonzora (MDC-T), Paul Mangwana (ZANU PF) and Edward Mkosi (MDC-M) – Mkosi is sometimes represented by David Coltart (MDC-M). The negotiators are: Patrick Chinamasa & Nicholas Goche (ZANU PF); Priscilla

Misihairabwi Mushonga & Welshman Ncube (MDC-M) and Tendai Biti & Elton Mangoma (MDC-T).

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