HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Thursday asked parliament to expel 18 rebel MPs on the grounds they no longer belonged to the party.
The 18 include Tendai Biti, a former MDC secretary general and finance minister, thrown out of the party by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in April.
Biti’s MDC Renewal group had tried to suspend Tsvangirai for failing to unseat President Robert Mugabe in last year’s elections.
The turmoil in the MDC has weakened the opposition to Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980.
Last weekend, Tsvangirai was re-elected unopposed at an MDC congress, where party members resolved to recall Biti and his group from parliament.
On Thursday, MDC’s new secretary general Douglas Mwonzora wrote to parliament saying the 18 members, who had been elected as MDC MPs, no longer belonged to the party. The MDC holds 90 seats out of a total 351 in the two houses of parliament.
“Accordingly, and in terms of Section 129(k) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, we hereby formally give notice to withdraw these members of Parliament with immediate effect,” Mwonzora said in his letter, seen by Reuters.
Under Zimbabwe’s constitution, if a political party recalls MPs, parliament declares the seats vacant and calls for a fresh election within 90 days.
But the issue is likely to spill into the courts and Jacob Mafume, spokesman for Biti’s group, said they were unfazed by the latest developments.
“It is a pointless gimmick, no one is moved. This issue is pending before many platforms,” Mafume said without elaborating.
Until last year, Mugabe had been forced to share power with Tsvangirai for four years. He does not face another election until 2018.
The 62-year-old Tsvangirai contested the polls under a cloud of sex scandals, and analysts predicted that dissatisfaction with his leadership would cause a split in the MDC.
Tsvangirai has led the MDC since its formation in 1999 but faces an uphill task in repairing the damage to his reputation enough to stand any real chance in the next election.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by Andrew Roche