Divisions in Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deepened on Monday when several senatorial candidates ignored an order by party leader Morgan Tsvangirai to boycott the election of a new senate.
Tsvangirai overruled a decision by the MDC's national council on 13 October, which had voted to participate in the 26 November poll - a move condemned by his critics as undemocratic.
Tsvangirai, however, insisted that he had the support of the party's grassroots, and argued that the senate election would be an unjustifiable cost for an already crisis-hit economy.
Negotiations failed to heal the rift between the factions, and defiant MDC candidates registered in the party strongholds of Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Harare Central and parts of Mashonaland West and Manicaland.
Unconfirmed reports said at least 27 candidates had registered for the 50 senatorial seats up for grabs.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) accepted the opposition candidates, despite a letter from Tsvangirai asking the ZEC to register them as independents.
Victor Moyo, the MDC spokesperson for Bulawayo, told IRIN that the pro-senate faction was contesting the election to deny seats to the ruling ZANU-PF party.
"What we don't want is for ZANU-PF to gain political ground in Matabeleland. We have managed to keep it at bay in the past elections and there is no reason at this point in time to allow them to penetrate our region by not contesting," he commented.
Since its formation in 1999, the labour-backed MDC has lost two general elections and a presidential ballot, although several international observer teams deemed the polls unfair.
Political analysts have warned that the open defiance shown by some provinces had weakened Tsvangirai's authority, but pro-democracy activist Lovemore Madhuku ruled out the prospect of a total split in the party.
"What is needed at this point in time is for both parties to come together and get talking. At first this appeared like it was an ethnic misunderstanding, but the fact that there are some provinces outside Matabeleland that took part shows it is a clearly national issue," said Madhuku, chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a local NGO.
ZANU-PF used its overwhelming majority in parliament in August to rubber stamp a constitutional amendment recreating the senate, after it was abolished in 1987 as too unwieldy.
The upper house will have 50 senators elected by ballot, while 15 non-political members will be appointed by the president from special interest groups, such as members of the council of chiefs, women and representatives from the agricultural and business sectors. They will review, and have the power to change, legislation sent to it from parliament, the lower chamber.