February 5, 2009 / 2:40 PM / 11 years ago

Zimbabwe's parliament passes unity government law

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s parliament passed a constitutional bill on Thursday to allow a coalition government of President Robert Mugabe and opposition rivals being set up under a deal to end political and economic crisis.

Zimbabwe's Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament Lovemore Moyo sits inside the parliament in Harare February 5, 2009. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed last week to join a unity government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF after months of wrangling over ministerial posts had stalled a power-sharing deal signed last year. The vote on Wednesday was the first concrete step by the two parties to meet a deadline set by leaders from the Southern Africa Development Community for a unity government to be in place by February 13.

Parliamentary Speaker Lovemore Moyo said 184 lawmakers in the 210-seat parliament had voted for the bill, easily surpassing the two-thirds needed. Tsvangirai’s party has 100 seats to 99 for ZANU-PF.

The vote was greeted with jubilation and stomping of feet by legislators from both parties, in a rare show of unity.

When he introduced the bill, Mugabe’s Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa described the establishment of a unity government as “a leap of faith.”

“With the enactment of the bill, the train of the inclusive government will be leaving the station, and we should let bygones be bygones,” he said.

MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti said the new unity government should give hope to Zimbabwe.

“We have no choice other than to give this experiment a try,” he said.

After its endorsement by the lower House of Assembly, the bill was immediately taken to the Senate where it was passed unanimously. It should then be signed into law by Mugabe.

Tsvangirai will become prime minister in the envisaged unity government. Mugabe will remain president. He was re-elected last June in a run-off vote which the opposition boycotted, citing attacks on its supporters.

Once a prosperous country, Zimbabwe’s economy is in ruins, with half the population in need of food aid. Official inflation, last recorded in mid-2008, had soared to 231 million percent and the United Nations says unemployment is 94 percent.

The southern African country is also stricken by the continent’s deadliest cholera epidemic in 15 years, infecting 65,739 people and killing 3,323.

John Makumbe, a veteran political commentator and critic of Mugabe, said although the process of forming a unity government was now on track after being stalled for months, the MDC needed to remain vigilant.

“I think Mugabe’s plan is to compromise them, and I think he is going to play his usual devious games in that new government as well, try to grab all the powers for himself,” he said.

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