- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

HARARE, Zimbabwe Zimbabwe's main opposition party, posing the strongest challenge yet to President Robert Mugabe's two-decade rule, made dramatic gains in the nation's fiercely contested parliamentary elections, according to results released today.
With results in 100 of 120 parliamentary districts announced, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change had won 48 seats and the ruling party 51, officials said early today. A small independent party won one seat.
However, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) appeared to have fallen short in its bid to win a majority in the parliament. It needed 76 of the 120 elected seats to seize power in the 150-member body. Mr. Mugabe, who has two years left on his term, appoints the remaining 30 seats.
The opposition held only three seats in the previous parliament.
Some MDC supporters drove through city streets honking their horns after early results were announced on national television, giving the open hand salute of the party and shouting the party slogan: "Change."
However, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) said it would form the next government regardless of who won the election. Mr. Mugabe made the same claim last week.
The European Union and Britain criticized the high levels of pre-election violence and intimidation that preceded the election. The European Union called the electoral process neither free nor fair.
The elections took place against a backdrop of four months of political violence spawned by the takeovers of hundreds of white-owned farms by armed black squatters. Human rights monitors termed it a government-sponsored terror campaign designed to crush the opposition. At least 31 persons have died.
Political analysts and politicians said that regardless of the outcome, the election had delivered a wake-up call to the ruling party and portended a bigger battle for the presidency when Mr. Mugabe's term expires in 2002.
Opposition supporters paraded through the streets with a coffin adorned with an effigy of Mr. Mugabe in Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Bulawayo, in the nation's south. The MDC won all the seats announced in the region.
Several high-level ruling party officials and Cabinet ministers lost their seats.
Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa was crushed nearly 2-to-1 in his rural district by an opponent who had fled the district and gone into hiding after being attacked by ruling party militants. Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa received less than 4,000 of the more than 24,000 votes cast in his district in the southwestern city of Bulawayo.
In the capital, Harare, the mood on the streets was tense after ZANU-PF Chairman John Nkomo declared that the ruling party would form the next government regardless of who won the election. Police across the country were deployed to guard against any post-election violence.
"For those who do not accept the verdict, the police will ensure that the people are forced to accept the outcome," Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri told a news conference.
Britain and the European Union condemned the violence and intimidation leading up to the weekend polls, while the United States expressed its continuing concern.
"The term free and fair is not applicable in these elections," the head of the European Union's 150-member election observer team, Pierre Schori, said yesterday.
He condemned "high levels of violence, intimidation and coercion" during the campaign and said "serious flaws and irregularities" had marred voting, which he characterized as generally calm and peaceful.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC: "The voters' rolls were rigged, the boundaries were rigged and there was systematic brutality intended to deter people from voting for change."
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States welcomed the high turnout by Zimbabweans in the parliamentary elections and called on the government to ensure the vote counting was fair.
The ruling party rejected the criticism as "real garbage."
"They are biased and with this report they have confirmed that the EU's real mission is actually out to help those trying to overthrow President Mugabe and our party," said Didymus Mutasa, ZANU-PF secretary for administration and a close aide of the president.
Zimbabwean analysts said the elections send a strong message to Mr. Mugabe and his ruling party.
"The message to Mugabe to retire has already been there. It is no longer business as usual. Any number of seats to the opposition above 25 cannot be ignored in terms of how the business of parliament is conducted," said Mike Mataure, a ZANU-PF parliamentarian from Chimanimani who opted not to run in this election.
Mr. Mugabe built his campaign around the often violent seizure of white-owned farmland, bashing white Zimbabweans and British residents and promising to restore government price controls and seize white-owned mines and factories.
War veterans and paid party supporters have seized and occupied some 1,600 white commercial farms and used them as a base to force opposition supporters into all-night indoctrination sessions and physically attack opposition campaigners.
However, the MDC won significant support even in rural districts where its candidates were prevented from campaigning. More significantly, the electoral boundaries favor ruling party rural constituencies.
"This election has done severe damage to the [ZANU-PF] party," said political science professor John Makumbe.
Anticipating tension surrounding the release of partial vote results, police put up roadblocks across Harare and halted vehicle traffic for several blocks around the central Harare police station and the National Constitutional Assembly.
While few armed police were visible during voting Saturday and Sunday, there was a heavy police presence around vote-counting stations including several officers armed with new AK-47 rifles.

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