Zimbabwe check and balance

Election: Opposition gains power to prevent President Mugabe from changing constitution at will.

June 28, 2000

NO LONGER a one-party state, Zimbabwe emerged from the weekend election with President Robert Mugabe still in office for two more years and his supporters still the majority in parliament. But everything is different.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), created by labor leader Morgan Tsvandirai, won nearly half of all contested seats. President Mugabe will control the parliament only because a past constitutional amendment gives him 30 appointees to join the 120 elected.

The MDC, with more than one-third of the seats, can now block Mr. Mugabe from further constitutional amendments giving him more power.

Mr. Tsvandirai, who failed to win a seat, is not the only major political figure created. The other is Chenjirai Hunzvi, the follower of Mr. Mugabe who led the violent squatting at white-owned farms that created the climate of intimidation while incidentally destroying Zimbabwe's economy.

After his own election to parliament, Mr. Hunzvi donned a necktie and called for an end to violence. More than that, he called for a "rejuvenation" of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

The 76-year-old strongman became a lame duck.

The electorate is split between the ruling party in the countryside and opposition in the towns. Violence prevented the MDC from campaigning in the rural areas.

Given the strong-arm tactics of the Mugabe machine, the MDC strength in the counted vote comes as a hopeful surprise. Zimbabwe is suddenly a two-party state.

The landlocked country of 12.5 million can regain prosperity and social peace. But only by using this election to introduce accommodation through the political process.

And that is still Mr. Mugabe's call. He has never been so inclined.

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