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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Parliament: Disillusion sets in
Zimbabwe's parliament
Zimbabwe's parliament has been woken from its slumber
By Joseph Winter in Harare

The six weeks of debate in Zimbabwe's new parliament have been marred by drunkenness and threats of violence, while the country is still devastated by shortages of jobs, diesel and foreign currency.

We were told that the opposition MDC would change things but there is no change

Disgruntled Zimbabwean
Some Zimbabweans are wondering whether all the effort, not to mention blood, they put in to the June elections was not wasted.

Even one of the new breed of opposition MPs, Priscilla Misihairabwi, is disillusioned.

"People heckle, shout, get upset and then the day is done. It's almost like a theatre. People play their part and walk out and when they walk out, Zimbabwe is still in the same state, if not worse," she says.

However she is one of those who have challenged her parliamentary rivals to "step outside" for a fist-fight.

She tries to justify this by saying how angry she was at seeing MPs from the ruling Zanu-PF party smiling, instead of showing remorse for the pre-election violence which left 30 opposition supporters dead.


There is no doubting that parliament is livelier now than in the days when the ruling Zanu-PF party had a majority of 147-3.

MDC supporters
MDC supporters expected change after their narrow election defeat
Then, the few MPs who bothered to turn up, often dozed off before waking to rubber-stamp decisions the party had already taken.

Now, there is little chance of falling asleep with 150 people shouting and screaming while trying to prevent their opponents from making their point.

Unless, of course, you've had one, or several, too many at the members' bar.


During one late-night session, to pass the supplementary budget, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa had to ask for the bar to be closed until the "august" house had adjourned.

"I want members to draw lessons from this afternoon and evening that, when this House is deliberating on serious issues, there should not be a liberal supply of alcohol," he understated as his fellow MPs incomprehensibly slurred their way through the arguments.

And that night he rammed home another point about the "new" parliament - the opposition MDC can only block constitutional amendments.

Zanu-PF has a workable majority for all other legislation.

Nine months into the financial year, the government had run out of cash. So, just weeks after promising austerity measures to reduce government expenditure, Finance Minister Simba Makoni introduced a supplementary budget which raised public spending by 50%.

The opposition was outraged and predicted that this would only send Zimbabwe's economy even closer to the wall.

But all the MDC could do was to walk out in protest. The bill was passed just a few hours after being introduced to parliament.


Such impotence is leading to frustration.

Outside the parliamentary building, one disgruntled bank worker complained about the soaring prices which have turned his pay-slip into a worthless piece of paper.

President Mugabe: Will he run in 2002?
"We were told that the opposition MDC would change things but there is no change. We are disappointed, we're not happy at all".

Zimbabweans are not used to the idea of parliamentary opposition - they last experienced it in a meaningful sense in 1987.

Voters in urban areas where the MDC swept the board expect to see concrete results not just hot-air.

But by definition, an opposition has no power.

Priscilla Misihairabwi admits that it is difficult explaining this to the people who sent her to parliament to "change" (the MDC slogan) things.

On toes

While she shares their impatience, she argues that the presence of 57 opposition MPs does keep the government on its toes.

As evidence, she points to Simba Makoni's disclosure that Zimbabwe had spent Z$10 bn ($263m) on the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and that such high expenditure was unsustainable.

This was in response to a parliamentary question from one of Misihairabwi's MDC colleagues. This is not power - the 11,000 soldiers are still in the DRC - but "for the first time, this government has had to be accountable" she says.

Forcing the government into embarrassing admissions during ministerial question time will also strengthen the MDC for presidential elections in 2002 when, at last, real power will be on offer.

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See also:

14 Sep 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe activists arrested
15 Sep 00 | Africa
MDC offices raided again
12 Sep 00 | Africa
Blast at Zimbabwe opposition HQ
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