HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made a surprise announcement that the leader of the opposition in Parliament will get official recognition and be entitled to a salary.

Mnangagwa made the announcement in a TV interview on a trip to New York, the United States of America, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly.

The proposal caught the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party by surprise, coming as it did just days after Mnangagwa laid out his government’s legislative agenda during an address to Parliament. He made no mention of the new proposal.

“It’s common worldwide that if a party loses elections, not everybody accepts losing gracefully. But this happens and I don’t think it’s new in Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa said of his disputed election victory on July 30, and MDC rival Nelson Chamisa’s refusal to concede.

“Under our Commonwealth parliamentary democracy, the opposition is recognised; you recognise the leader of the opposition in Parliament,” the 76-year-old told Bloomberg. “Under the former administration, there was no formal recognition of the opposition leader, but now under my administration, we are embracing the Commonwealth approach to parliamentary democracy, where you recognise the leader of the opposition and he is given certain recognition and perks in Parliament.”

MDC chairperson Thabitha Khumalo is the party’s leader in Parliament, party spokesman Jacob Mafume told ZimLive. The holding of parliamentary and presidential elections at the same time in Zimbabwe prevents presidential candidates, who are party leaders, from securing seats in the legislature – which will set Zimbabwe apart from the Commonwealth examples Mnangagwa was citing.

As it stands, if the MDC wanted Chamisa to take up the role, one of its MPs would have to resign to trigger a by-election which Chamisa would go on to contest. This is unlikely, however.

Chamisa’s spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda said there had been no prior discussion with Mnangagwa, whose presidency they do not recognise.

“The president (Chamisa) has made it clear that he was mandated by the MDC National Council to engage in nation-building dialogue with anyone who wants to take this country forward,” Sibanda said.

“The dialogue is based on five principles, which he has made public. At the moment, no-one has come forward and knocked at his door for dialogue. If Zanu PF thinks it can knock, they are welcome.”

In a statement on September 21, Chamisa restated his belief that he had won the July 30 elections based on data captured by a Zimbabwe Electoral Commission server, which the Constitutional Court had not allowed him to subpoena to bolster his election petition.

Chamisa said given the deepening economic crisis in the country, he believed in an “all-inclusive national dialogue as the gateway to a lasting solution to our challenges”.

As part of the five principles for engaging in such dialogue, he wants “the respect of the true outcome of this election and holding of truly free, fair and credible future elections” and a “return to legitimacy and normalcy.”