March 29, 2004

Zanu edges closer to two-thirds majority but speculations about Mugabe’s withdrawal continue

Zimbabwe's ruling party edged closer to the two-thirds majority it needs to push through constitutional changes after winning a parliamentary by-election in Zengeza, 35km south-east of Harare. The election was won by ruling party representative Christopher Chigumbo with 8.447 votes to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change's James Makore who got 6.706 votes. "We are elated with the results," state radio reported ruling party spokesperson Winston Zhau saying. "It is a clear indication Zanu-PF is back in the urban centres. It is a warning shot to the MDC ahead of next years parliamentary elections," he said.

However, as independent observers have remarked, the two days of voting and the electioneering period leading up to it was far from free and fair. Onlookers alleged that a government minister fired the shots that killed one opposition supporter and injured two others south of Harare, the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network said. Accordingly, its observers did not see the shooting but heard the gunfire and questioned witnesses afterward. In a second incident, opposition party candidate Makore fired three warning shots into the air to disperse what he called a "rowdy mob descending on him" near a polling station. At least 50 people were injured in clashes between rival groups, hospital officials said.

The poll in the Zengeza district town of Chitungwiza, 30km south of Harare, was called after opposition lawmaker Tafadzwa Musekiwa fled into self-imposed exile in Britain, claiming he was the victim of politically motivated assaults and death threats. The by-election was a crucial test of opposition support in its urban strongholds ahead of national parliament elections in 2005.

ZANU’s “success” however remains overshadowed by continuing rumors about a possible withdrawal of Mugabe later this year, and continuing fighting between possible successor candidates. Chances are diminishing apparently for Zimbabwe's Speaker of Parliament, Emmerson Mnangagwa,

for his alleged role in the externalisation of foreign currency and illegal exports of gold. Mnangagwa, along with former mines minister July Moyo, who was moved to another ministry in a recent reshuffle, was named in court as part of a gold smuggling syndicate.

Mnangagwa, often touted as President Robert Mugabe's successor, now appears to be pushed out of the running after Mugabe appointed a longtime ally, Didymus Mutasa to his cabinet as senior minister. Mutasa is in charge of his anti-corruption committee. Analysts say Mutasa is likely to take over as vice president from Joseph Msika, who is expected to succeed Mugabe, albeit temporarily, after the ailing 80-year-old ruler indicated to his inner clique that he was considering quitting by the end of this year.

Mugabe, who is in poor health and has of late been staying out of the public eye, was expected to leave office earlier this year, but infighting in his party forced him to reconsider (IOL, South Africa; SouthScan)

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