February, 15, 2006

Tsvangirai loses election appeal / Bread and Roses protestors held

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), already wracked by internal division, is finding itself more isolated in the region and at home. The party's disputed leader Morgan Tsvangirai has lost yet another round in his battle to overturn the results of the 2002 presidential election, which President Robert Mugabe maintains he won fairly. At the time of the 2002 poll the MDC was in its ascendancy, but when the votes were finally tallied, Mugabe had scored 56.2 percent to Tsvangirai's 41.9, with his strongest showing predictably in the rural areas, a traditional support base. Western and local election observers condemned the ballot as neither free nor fair. However, the Supreme Court dismissed an application by Tsvangirai that it hear his appeal for nullification of the 2002 results. This followed a High Court ruling in 2005 against Tsvangirai's bid to overturn the poll verdict, for which the presiding judge gave no reasons until months after his ruling.

The court ruling was yet another blow for the beleaguered Tsvangirai, currently fighting a leadership battle with a 'rebel' MDC faction, led by vice-president Gibson Sibanda. The labour-backed MDC's bitter wrangle over participation in the senate election split the party in two, with each faction trying to expel or suspend its opponents. They will hold two separate congresses this year, which analysts say is likely to lead to a finalisation of the split. Meanwhile, smaller parties have emerged, further confusing the opposition political landscape, say analysts.

In the meantime, more than 400 women have been arrested for protesting against high prices and unemployment in Zimbabwe, after inflation shot past 600 percent. Over 240 were arrested in the capital, Harare, for participating in a march led by the activist organisation, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), held annually on St Valentine's Day. The organisation's lawyer was also arrested when he intervened, according to WOZA. Another 181 participants of a WOZA-led march in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, were arrested and remained in detention overnight. "This year's theme is bread and roses [inspired by the 'Bread and Roses' strike by American women textile workers in 1912]," said Jenni Williams, national coordinator of WOZA, who was among those arrested on Monday. "The bread stands for the need for affordable food, and the roses represent the need to be dignified and the call for social justice." Police have largely treated WOZA protests as illegal 'political' gatherings. In two years of demonstrations, about 900 WOZA activists have now been arrested for breaching the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which prohibits public gatherings without police clearance. (The Business Day, Johannesburg)

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