HARARE, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s main opposition party won the top job in parliament Monday, scoring a surprise victory that could give President Robert Mugabe’s foes leverage in power-sharing talks.
It is the first time since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980 that the speaker’s post has not been held by an ally of the autocratic Mugabe.
The election of Lovemore Moyo of the Movement for Democratic Change on a 110-98 vote brought cheers, with opposition legislators breaking into a song declaring “ZANU-PF is finished!” The result indicated some members of the ruling ZANU-PF may have voted for Moyo in the secret ballot.
Mugabe’s party had held a parliamentary majority since independence, but it emerged from March elections with 99 seats in the 210-seat legislature, just behind the 100 held by the Movement for Democratic Change. A splinter opposition party has 10 seats and an independent one.
ZANU-PF had been expected to retain the speakership in a body that long had been a rubber-stamp for Mugabe’s policies, but it surprised many people by not putting up a candidate.
“The figures were against us,” said ruling party legislator Walter Mzemdi. He said ZANU-PF lawmakers were instructed to vote for Paul Themba-Nyathi, a leader of the splinter opposition faction, but the total for Moyo showed some backed him.
Moyo promised to “work toward a professional parliament that will represent the true wishes of the people of Zimbabwe.”