23 March 2001

ZIMBABWE - Elections: MDC complaint rejected by court

Zimbabwe's High Court on March 23 threw out the first of 37 petitions by the main opposition which alleges that the ruling Zanu-PF party used violence to win seats in last June's parliamentary elections. The court ruled that the opposition MDC's Farayi Maruzani had failed to prove his Zanu-PF opponent Pearson Mbalekwa was behind assaults on the opposition in Zvishavane constituency in the run-up to the polls.

"The assaults proved to have been perpetrated by war veterans and Zanu-PF supporters were not proved to have been committed with the knowledge, approval or consent of the respondent or his election agent," High Court Judge Vernanda Ziyambi said.

The opposition had also failed to prove that there were polling irregularities, including Zanu-PF supporters preventing voters from casting their ballots, she added. MDC lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told reporters afterwards the party would challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court.

Judgement has been reserved in three other petitions heard by the High Court in the past month. The MDC, which was formed 18 months ago, says it narrowly lost last year's parliamentary elections due to "grossly irregular conduct, unfair practices and violent behaviour" by President Robert Mugabe's party. Zanu-PF, however, says it won fairly and denies that a five-month violent pre-election campaign by its militant supporters, which left at least 31 people dead, affected the final election result. The ruling party won 62 of the 120 contested seats, while the MDC took 57, making it Mugabe's biggest political challenge since he came to power in 1980 when the former Rhodesia attained independence from Britain.

Zanu-PF later boosted its majority in the 150-member parliament through 30 seats reserved for traditional chiefs and presidential appointees and won back one more seat earlier this year in a by-election to replace an MDC legislator who died in November. In January the Supreme court overturned as unconstitutional a decree Mugabe passed in December barring the opposition from challenging the election results. (The Star)

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