- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party secured a majority in parliament yesterday, but the opposition said the vote was stolen and urged Zimbabweans to protest the outcome.

Thursday’s vote was seen as a test of the legitimacy of Mr. Mugabe’s autocratic regime after 25 years in power. Mr. Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, is the last on the continent who has ruled his country since independence from the colonial powers.

Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won 62 of parliament’s 120 elected seats, compared with 35 for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), according to partial results announced by the national election commission. Mr. Mugabe appoints an additional 30 seats, guaranteeing a majority for his party.

The opposition appeared unlikely to match its showing of 57 seats in the last vote, in 2000, and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pledged to contest the results.

“The government has fraudulently, once again, betrayed the people,” he said at a press conference earlier. “We believe the people of Zimbabwe must defend their vote and their right to free and fair elections.”

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean authorities targeted foreign journalists covering the elections.

Two British journalists who were arrested Thursday while interviewing voters in Norton, 25 miles west of the capital, were served with deportation papers yesterday, their attorney said. Correspondent Toby John Harnden and photographer Julian Paul Simmonds from the Sunday Telegraph will appear in court today to answer charges of violating the country’s strict media laws and immigration rules, lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said.

A Swedish television journalist, Fredrik Sperling, was kicked out of the country yesterday for filming a large farm expropriated by the government and now owned by a Mugabe relative, Agence-France-Presse reported, citing Swedish press.

Independent Zimbabwean rights groups and the United States, whose diplomats observed the campaign and voting, said the vote was flawed.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Thursday that the balloting had taken place on a “playing field heavily tilted in favor of the government.”

The independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which deployed 6,000 observers nationwide, said as many as a quarter of those who tried to vote were turned away because their names did not appear on the voter roll, or they failed to present proper identification.

Observers from neighboring countries largely sympathetic to Mr. Mugabe said the vote was conducted in an “open, transparent and professional manner.”

But the delegation from the 14-member Southern African Development Community said it also was concerned about the high number of people who were unable to cast ballots.

Mr. Mugabe dismissed the opposition’s fears of fraud as “nonsense” on Thursday, saying: “Everybody has seen that these are free and fair elections.”

Mr. Mugabe’s nephew, ruling party candidate Patrick Zhuwao, was declared the winner in Manyame, 25 miles southwest of Harare. Election officials announced Thursday night that 14,812 persons voted there. But early yesterday, they changed the total to 24,000 and said Mr. Zhuwao got more than 15,000 votes.

“I won. I was leading. Suddenly, I hear about 24,000 votes, and I don’t know where the extra 10,000 came from,” said losing MDC candidate Hilda Mafudze.

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