- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe Voters defied threats of violence to turn out en masse for weekend parliamentary elections, but international monitors today said the polls were seriously flawed and could not be described as either free or fair.

"The term 'free and fair elections' is not applicable in these elections," the head of the 150-member European Union observer mission, Pierre Schori, said in a news conference early this morning. "The level of violence and intimidation in the pre-election phase makes the term not applicable."

Mr. Schori said the government and ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party had deliberately obstructed efforts by independent monitors to maintain a fair poll and that ZANU-PF had been chiefly responsible for the bulk of the violence.

At least 31 persons, mostly opposition supporters, have died in political violence since February, when ruling party militants and independence war veterans began occupying more than 1,400 white-owned farms.

With Zimbabwe's economy in ruins, the two-day election for parliament that ended yesterday marked the most serious challenge to President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled uninterrupted since leading the country to independence from Britain in 1980.

The elections will choose 120 of 150 members of parliament and provide a crucial signal about how much Mr. Mugabe's popularity has been dented by the preceding four-month campaign of violent land seizures and racially charged rhetoric against whites and foreigners.

Results are expected today, but the government and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) began verbally jostling for power even before polls closed.

ZANU-PF said that whatever the results of the election, the ruling party would ban opposition party winners from participating in the government.

"There will be no opposition in government," said John Nkomo, ZANU-PF'S national chairman. "There will be no change in government. ZANU-PF will form the government whatever the results."

However, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said the opposition would demand a share of government ministries.

"Mugabe is history. It doesn't matter what he does. That's the end. There's always a stage where the curtains will be drawn," Mr. Tsvangirai said.

But Mr. Nkomo of ZANU-PF told a news conference that under the constitution, Mr. Mugabe had the right to appoint his Cabinet from those elected to parliament and that one from the opposition would be included.

Despite some reports of violence and intimidation over the weekend, the voter turnout was heavy and most polling stations remained calm and peaceful. Election observers said officials at most voting places followed rules and opposition representatives were on hand to monitor the process.

"The situation in the rural areas is not as calm and peaceful as the city centers," said Eddie Makue, a South African member of the World Council of Churches observer mission, who surveyed voting in the Manicaland, the nation's largest province.

One MDC candidate in Mashonaland West, Mr. Mugabe's home province, hid for protection in a police station for seven hours after being chased by ruling-party supporters.

Later, a mob of about 100 MDC supporters armed with ax handles rescued him.

Another MDC candidate from the central town of Gokweremained was hospitalized from a ZANU-PF assault and was unable to vote.

In Mashonaland East, the province hardest hit by pre-election violence, voting took place peacefully, often on occupied farms.

AP

A Zimbabwean woman wearing curlers casts her vote yesterday in an empty polling station in Zengeza, 18 miles south of Harare.

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