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Zimbabwe's new Parliament was to begin on Tuesday with the largest number of Zanu-PF legislators since President Robert Mugabe and his party won their first election in 1980.
Mugabe will officially open Parliament on Wednesday and on Tuesday the Movement for Democratic Change of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) said it would boycott that ceremony in protest against what it alleges was a rigged victory for Mugabe and Zanu-PF in the July 31 presidential and parliamentary elections.
MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said the 70 MDC-T MPs elected would take their seats on Tuesday to be sworn in but would not participate in the voting for Speaker of Parliament.
Zanu-PF will have an overwhelming majority with 197 seats in the 270 seat lower house. The smaller MDC of Welshman Ncube will have two seats and one will be taken by an independent.
Zanu-PF won 160 directly-elected constituency seats, Tsvangirai's MDC-T won 49 and an independent candidate won one seat in the July 31 election for 210 seats representing constituencies.
But the new constitution adopted earlier this year added 60 seats for women, allocated proportionally to the total votes cast for ordinary MPs.
So far Mugabe has not indicated whether he is going to appoint old Zanu-PF faithfuls to his cabinet, but most analysts say they expect the hard core to be there once again.
Internet based site, New Zimbabwe.com, predicts that Mugabe is expected to retain the nucleus of his loyal inner circle including Emmerson Mnangagwa, Sidney Sekeramayi, Patrick Chinamasa, Kembo Mohadi, Webster Shamu, Ignatius Chombo and Obert Mpofu.
It was this group, described by many as hardliners, or right wingers, within Zanu-PF who were in control of the government when it plunged the country into record beating hyperinflation, almost empty supermarket shelves and dysfunctional schools, hospitals,railways and the national airline in 2008.
The previous Zanu-PF administration also slashed prices to way below cost on a range of goods such as refrigerators, televisions etc. which bankrupted many retailers.
Many fear that central bank governor, Gideon Gono, who managed the hyper-inflationary printing of Zimbabwe dollars back then, will now be made finance minister.
Some analysts say Gono has made it clear he wants to take his place again among international bankers at the International Monetary Fund.
The central bank’s powers were drastically curbed by the inclusive government and the decision to scrap the worthless Zimbabwe dollar in favour of the US dollar.
Following a flight of cash, mainly from locally owned banks after Zanu-PF’s landslide election victory on July 31 became clear, Gono made a statement that Zimbabwe would not bring back the Zimbabwe dollar.
Mugabe is expected to cut the size of the cabinet which swelled to 31 in the previous government of national unity.
The MDC’s Tendai Biti, who was finance minister in the inclusive government, warns that public funds can only just cover monthly civil service salaries of US$200 million.
Even five years after abandoning the Zimbabwe dollar, retailers say about 80 percent of all goods in supermarkets are imported, mostly from South Africa.
“Local goods, apart from meat, and some veg, are just not there,” said the manager of one of Harare’s busiest supermarkets on Monday.
“Trading is down too at present. People are nervous about who is going to be in the cabinet. No one will ever forget what happened before.”
Zimbabwe cannot fully feed itself either and depends for about a third of its maize from imports, this year from Zambia, previously from South Africa.
It cannot produce even enough cooking oil or wheat for local consumption.
But Zimbabwe’s recently resettled black, small-scale farmers are now producing as much tobacco, by value, as white commercial farmers were before they were kicked off their farms from 2000.
Mugabe has no clear front runners for the key social service ministries which were run by MDC ministers in the previous administration.
The MDC also ran the energy sector.
There have been rumours that Mugabe will offer some ministries to the MDC, but Morgan Tsvangirai, president of the main MDC, has denied this. Even if they were offered, and so far no offers have been made, he says none of his MPs would accept.
Rugare Gumbo, Zanu-PF spokesman, said he did not believe cabinet posts would be offered to MDC. “There are so many new Zanu-PF MP’s to choose from.”
In the new constitution, adopted in March, there is provision for Mugabe to bring in five cabinet ministers who did not win seats in the elections.
This would allow Mugabe to appoint some “technocrats.”
Among one of the hopefuls for one of the five positions is former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara who remained in his position as a 'principal” even after he was rejected by his former political party, the smaller MDC at its congress two years ago. The post of deputy prime minister was meant to go to the leader of the smaller MDC, but Mugabe rejected new party leader, Welshman Ncube, as did Tsvangirai who kept Mutambara on for the negotiations among the key “principals” during the inclusive government. Mutambara did not stand for elections.