Zimbabwe MP numbers overwhelm Parliament

There are not enough seats in Parliament to accommodate the extra number of MPs. (Desmond Kwande/AFP)

There are not enough seats in Parliament to accommodate the extra number of MPs. (Desmond Kwande/AFP)

Zimbabwe’s new legislators may have to vote on their feet when Parliament officially opens for its eighth session in two weeks’ time after it emerged that the building cannot accommodate the incoming bloated legislature.

The new Constitution increased the number of legislators from 210 members to 270. The unity government also agreed to create an extra 60 seats for women.

There was chaos when the incoming legislators took their oaths of office on Tuesday. The Parliament building was overcrowded, with some new MPs having to stand in the corridors for the duration of the swearing-in ceremony.

“Besides the 210 seats elected, we created 60 seats for women Members of Parliament elected by proportional representation,” said Douglas Mwonzora.

He was one of the three co-chairpersons of the parliamentary constitution select committee, which was charged with crafting the Constitution.

Mwonzora said there was a seating crisis. “I think they may have to stand. There is no way the present Parlia­ment building can accommodate them all,” Mwonzora said.

Nightmare for parliamentary administration
The panightmare for the parliamentary administrationrties also agreed to increase numbers in the Senate from 60 seats to 80, creating a nightmare for the parliamentary administration headed by the clerk of Parliament, Austin Zvoma.

It was clear that he was in a quandary on Tuesday as he restricted the number of visitors to the House during the swearing-in ceremony.

Zvoma, who has been at the helm of Parliament for more than a decade, was also forced to stagger the swearing in of MPs and restricted them to be accompanied only by one spouse and not more than three children.

Incoming MPs had to take their oaths in batches of 10 but, despite these measures, the house was overflowing.

Zvoma said a “plan” would have to be made soon to create more space although, at the moment, it was “mission impossible”.

“We have to do something to create order when Parliament starts sitting,” said Zvoma.

Pressure to "perform miracles"
A parliamentary official said on Wednesday they were under pressure to “perform a miraculous juggling act” to accommodate all the legislators, particularly on next Tuesday when Mugabe officially opens the eighth session of Parliament.

He will open Parliament on September 17 at a function to be attended by diplomats, journalists and other invited dignitaries who will pack the small public and press gallery, further creating problems for Zvoma.

The geographical position of Parliament — in the city centre — also makes the possibility of extending the building difficult.

Ricky Mukoza, a political analyst watching the developments on Tuesday, said the only feasible option was for the government to build a new building.

“This could also give government an opportunity to move the legislature to another city so that government is not centralised in one area,” he said.

But, Mukoza said, it was baffling why a country as small as Zimbabwe needed so many parliamentarians, particularly given the country’s financial constraints.



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