Jeering Mugabe

Does open hostility from opposition lawmakers suggest Zimbabwe’s strongman is losing his grip?

What happened

Zimbabwe’s Parliament heckled and jeered President Robert Mugabe as he ceremonially opened the legislative session. The lower house of Parliament, with an opposition majority for the first time since 1980, elected a speaker from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change on Monday. Mugabe and MDC leaders have held inconclusive talks after fraud-tainted elections. (The New York Times)

What the commentators said

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It was not “Zimbabwe’s Ceaucescu moment,” said The Times of London in an editorial, and Mugabe probably won’t be forced from office and shot the way Romania's dictator was. But being heckled by a hostile Parliament, and “thwarted” by parliamentarians who evaded arrest to show up, was a first for Mugabe. The “angry look” on his face, broadcast live, was “an exhilarating message of hope” for “a cowed country.”

Mugabe’s allies say that the MDC’s “uncouth behavior” was uncalled for, said Brian Hungwe in BBC News, but the newly empowered opposition “clearly wanted to make its mark.” And it did. Mugabe was shaken during his speech, knocking over the microphone at one point, and by the time he left, “his body language told a story of a leader who no longer quite has his grip on power.”

Despite the booing and “peace talks,” said Jonathan Clayton, also in The Times of London, Mugabe “still controls all the main levers of state power,” with no real sign that his grip is slipping. The new “political deadlock” could even make things worse, bringing new state violence and no resumption of power-sharing talks.

Deadlock is almost assured, since Mugabe’s party still controls the upper house of Parliament, said Violet Gonda in SW Radio Africa. And Mugabe’s regime is locking up opposition legislators, with four arrested so far. But there is still hope that “these are the last kicks of a dying horse.” Only time will tell.

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