May 18, 2004

Ruling party claims win in parliamentary by-election

President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party claimed victory in a crucial parliamentary by-election, bringing it within two seats of a sufficient majority to amend the constitution. Paul Themba-Nyathi, spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said that the loss of the sprawling Lupane constituency in what had been its stronghold area of north western Zimbabwe had resulted from rampant intimidation. The party, led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai, now holds only 51 seats in the 150 seat legislature, dominated by Mugabe's party with 98. Another small opposition grouping retains one seat. With a two-thirds majority, 80-year-old Mugabe could amend the constitution to perpetuate his party's 24-year rule indefinitely. "The intimidation was just unrelenting," said Themba-Nyathi. He claimed that MDC campaigners were abducted when they protested over alleged abuses, including warnings to rural villagers that they would not be eligible for famine relief if they failed to vote for Zanu PF. State radio said the result reflected voter disillusion with alleged foreign backing for the opposition and growing voter support for Mugabe's "fast track" redistribution of 5.000 farms to black Zimbabweans.

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