Zimbabwe heads into new era

Election changes balance of power

June 28, 2000|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Asserting that this country of 12 million will never be the same, a young opposition party yesterday loosened the 20-year, near-total grip on power of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party.

Ten months after it was founded, the Movement for Democratic Change won more than a third of the seats in this country's parliament after a campaign marred by political violence and more than 30 deaths.

Although Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front will still hold a majority in the parliament, it lost the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution, as Mugabe has tried to do to increase his power.

It is a major defeat for a party that has held all but three seats in Parliament in the two decades since independence from white rule.

"Anybody who believes that the future destiny of this country lies with Robert Mugabe should have his head examined. ... This is the end of Robert Mugabe," Morgan Tsvangirai, a former labor leader who heads the opposition movement, said at a news conference yesterday.

Tsvangirai acknowledged that his party's victory means the two parties will need to work together to solve Zimbabwe's staggering high unemployment, inflation and health and social problems.

"I think Zimbabwe will never be the same again. For the first time, we have a divided Parliament," he said.

In a televised address last night, the 76-year-old Mugabe congratulated the winners and said he looked forward to working with the new parliament as it "grapples with pressing challenges."

"Our next parliament is certainly destined to prove very lively but hopefully lively in a positive way that enhances and nourishes our legislative capacity," he said, promising that it would address the issues of land reform and the economy.

"There is a great expectation in our country around the land that is still to come to our people in a big way, around the economy which is going through a bad patch and for which lasting answers will have to be found, around our continual search for greater unity and stability within our nation."

In two days of voting that ended Sunday night, more than 3 million of the country's 5. 1 million registered voters went to the polls, nearly double the number who voted in 1995 parliamentary elections.

In final results released yesterday morning, Mugabe's party won 62 seats and the opposition 57. An independent party held one seat. Under Zimbabwe's constitution, Mugabe and his allies pick those who will fill the remaining 30 seats.

In the first independent analysis of the political situation in Zimbabwe, European Union election observers declared that there were serious flaws and failures in the electoral process.

High levels of violence and intimidation, much of it sanctioned by the ruling party, marred the campaign period, the mission concluded.

Applying spin

"Our poll attracted enormous interest from all over the world, and that interest expressed itself by way of thousands of guests who came to see how we run our elections here," said Mugabe.

The Jesuit-educated former teacher, who turned freedom fighter in Africa's age of decolonization, said, "Among these were some who, much in the mold of the Victorian civilizing mission, thought they had come to pacify, give virtue, and thus redeem us, the natives."

He said the visitors should go away "humble and educated," impressed by how things are done in Zimbabwe.

"We are still able to ensure that victory and defeat are quick to reconcile, quick to connect and cohabit in the same national space for greater peace and togetherness," Mugabe said.

He overlooked the widely reported violence during the election campaign, concluding, "The peace that prevailed on the two voting days is the peace you made and cherished, indeed was the peace that characterized all our elections since 1980."

The opposition did well in urban areas such as Harare and Bulawayo, while the ruling party won support in the rural districts where land reform was a key issue and where violence and intimidation were greatest.

The opposition party said it would challenge results from 20 of the districts, including the seat Tsvangirai lost.

"Without the subversion, we could have easily won this election. There is no doubt in my mind," said Tsvangirai. "Even if MDC won, it could not be considered a free and fair election."

End to violence

After fears that the violence that characterized the campaign period would flare up following the election, the country appeared to accept the news peacefully.

In Harare, the well-maintained capital of broad avenues and many modern buildings, business went on as usual except for occasional celebrations by opposition party members.

"Who is going to start the violence? For what? The violence was intended to change the thinking and change the environment before the election. Now that the election has taken place, what will the justification be for violence?" Tsvangirai said.

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