Tendai Mugabe Senior Reporter
A bruising legal tussle is looming over the legitimacy of 21 MDC-T legislators who deserted the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC to form a new political outfit known as United Movement for Democratic Change.
This comes in the wake of a letter written by MDC-T secretary-general Mr Douglas Mwonzora to National Assembly Speaker Advocate Jacob Mudenda and Senate president Cde Ednah Madzongwe, seeking to recall the MPs, arguing that they no longer belong to their party.
Secretary-general of the rival MDC faction trading under the banner of MDC Renewal Mr Tendai Biti yesterday came out guns blazing, accusing Mr Tsvangirai and his group of insincerity.
He said Mr Tsvangirai had no locus standi to recall them from Parliament because he was legally expelled from MDC-T together with other members of his leadership.
The Speaker of Parliament yesterday promised to deal with the matter once he returns from his foreign assignment.
“I am out of the country at the moment,” he said.
“I will deal with the matter when I come back.”
Asked when he was coming back, Adv Mudenda said: “You are going too far. You want to know my travel itinerary?”
Addressing journalists in Harare yesterday, Mr Biti said in the first place, Mr Mwonzora could not claim to be the secretary-general of MDC-T because he was a product of an illegitimate congress.
However, the Tsvangirai group has stuck to its guns arguing that Mr Biti and company had formed a new party under the banner of UMDC, which compelled the Speaker to kick them out of Parliament in terms of Section 129 (1) (k) of the Constitution.
In an interview, MDC-T spokesperson Mr Obert Gutu said, “A lawyer like (Mr) Biti knows that the best thing to do was to seek an interdict to stop our congress if they claim that they are the real MDC.
“He cannot claim to be an MDC-T member when it suits him, and choose not to be a member when it suits him. They are on public record as saying they have formed their new party called UMDC with co-presidents and co-chairmen and will soon hold a congress.
“They have even changed colours. Who are they trying to fool?”
In response, Mr Biti said: “These actions by our erstwhile colleagues show that they are now in bed with Zanu-PF because the net effect of them recalling MDC MPs is that they are knowingly donating these seats to Zanu-PF on a silver platter, given the fact that they have declared that they will not participate in any election in the absence of electoral reforms, which reforms have not happened.
“While it is common cause that the Speaker of Parliament has already made a determination that the matter of who constitutes the legitimate leadership of the party, we wish to make it unequivocally clear that there is only one secretary -general of the party and that is Hon. Tendai Biti and until a legitimate congress is held, only he can write to the Speaker of Parliament or any other body on MDC matters.”
Legal experts expressed varied opinions over the matter with most of them pointing to a Tsvangirai victory in the whole saga.
Harare lawyer Mr Tendai Toto said in terms of the Constitution, the seats in question would now be open for contestation because the current occupants had ceased to be members of MDC-T.
“From a Constitutional perspective, the Members of Parliament must represent constituencies on a political party ticket or as independent representatives,” he said.
“When an MP ceases to be an affiliate of a political party under whose ticket he is sitting as an MP, the constituency becomes vacant. That is to say the seat can be contested by anybody, henceforth. The MDC-T MPs that have been identified as rebels or regarded renegades properly expelled from MDC-T cease to be legitimate Members of Parliament.”
He said the solution to the matter was for the Speaker of Parliament to declare the seats vacant and call for by elections.
He said just like in the case of Messrs Didymus Mutasa of Zanu-PF and Temba Mliswa, the 21 MDC-T legislators remained expelled from their party unless and until they were re-admitted.
Another law expert Mr Vote Muza, said politics was a game of numbers and Mr Tsvangirai appeared to have a huge following compared to the Biti camp and matters of such political nature should not be brought before the courts.
“Normally, the group that remains with the majority number of followers may have right to assert itself as the legitimate political party,” he said.
“Over the past months, the Biti camp came clearly open that they were no longer part of the MDC-T grouping, but members of another political party. To any neutral observer, that in itself clearly points to the Biti group as having deprived itself any legitimate right to claim that they are a true part of MDC-T.”
He, however, said the Speaker of Parliament might face a challenge in determining the case as he had previously indicated that the MDC-T matter should be better resolved by the courts.
University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Professor Lovemore Madhuku, said in a democratic society the Speaker should wait and see the outcome of the Messrs Mutasa and Mliswa court case before he makes a ruling on any matter of similar nature.
“The Speaker is not a judicial officer,” he said. “Any person with a dispute should be allowed his or her day in the court. There is no way the Speaker can take (Mr) Mwonzora’s letter as letter of the MDC-T because it has been overtaken by events. The Speaker must not entangle himself in these issues because he has a similar case, which is now before the courts and he should wait for the courts to give direction on any pending case of that nature.”