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In Zimbabwe, an Irregular But Less Violent Election

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A15037-2005Mar31.html?referrer=email In Zimbabwe, an Irregular But Less Violent Election Mugabe Lauds Free and
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2005
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      In Zimbabwe, an Irregular But Less Violent Election
      Mugabe Lauds 'Free and Fair' Vote as Opposition Cries

      By Craig Timberg
      Washington Post Foreign Service
      Friday, April 1, 2005; Page A16

      HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 1 -- Zimbabwe's opposition
      Movement for Democratic Change appears to have run
      strongly in its urban strongholds, winning 21 of the
      first 24 seats in national elections announced on
      Friday morning, but more than 100 seats, including
      most of those in the ruling party's traditional
      heartland, remained at play.

      Opposition party officials said their informal
      calculations showed them making gains in some other
      areas previously held by the party of President Robert
      G. Mugabe. But the opposition was in danger of losing
      some seats they previously held, and party officials
      worried openly about what they said were reportedly
      high turnouts in rural precincts where the opposition
      was unable to monitor the counting.

      The parliamentary seats won in official announcements
      mostly were in Harare, the capital, and Bulawayo,
      Zimbabwe's second-largest city. The margins were
      lopsided, as they were for the two rural seats won by
      Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic
      Front. Up for election are 120 seats in the 150-seat
      national legislature. Mugabe will appoint the
      remaining 30 seats.

      "Everybody has seen that they are free and fair
      elections," Mugabe said after voting in a poor
      township here in the capital. "The people are behind
      us. We are going to win. By how much, that is what we
      are going to see."

      But the Movement for Democratic Change said the vote
      was flawed. "The distorted nature of the pre-election
      playing field and the failure to address core
      democratic deficits precluded a free and fair
      election," it said in a statement released after the
      polls closed Thursday night.

      In Washington, Richard A. Boucher, the State
      Department spokesman, told reporters, "Generally we'd
      say that the campaigning took place in an atmosphere
      of intimidation."

      Police arrested nearly 100 women on a main square in
      Harare on Thursday evening as they held a prayer

      There were reports of at least two cases of youths
      from the ruling party threatening voters and also of
      attacks on opposition party poll workers. In one rural
      district, the opposition candidate went into hiding
      after allegedly being threatened by the ruling party

      Five foreign journalists were arrested or detained by
      police and several others were threatened with arrest.

      Many voters said they feared that the relatively low
      level of violence would be temporary and the that
      ruling party's thuggish tactics would return once
      foreign journalists and independent observers left the

      A purple dye applied to voters' fingers to prevent a
      person from casting multiple ballots was easily washed
      off, and the voter roll had as many as 1 million
      fictitious voters, including many dead people, the
      opposition said.

      As of 2 p.m. Thursday, with five hours of voting left,
      at least 1 million Zimbabweans out of an electorate of
      more than 5 million had cast ballots, officials here
      said. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission officials said on
      Friday that more than 135,000 voters -- around 10
      percent of those who showed up on Thursday -- were
      turned away from polling stations in six of Zimbabwe's
      10 provinces because they lacked proper identification
      or their names did not appear on the voter roll, said
      George Chiweshe, chairman of the national election
      commission. At stake is the political and economic
      future of a nation of 13 million that was once
      regarded as one of Africa's most prosperous countries.
      Mugabe, 81, in power since Zimbabwe became independent
      in 1980, has, over the past five years, cracked down
      on political dissent, closed independent newspapers
      and presided over an economic collapse. The country
      has 80 percent unemployment, widespread food shortages
      and the world's highest rates of inflation.

      Dozens of interviews throughout the rural areas
      surrounding Harare suggested a weakening of Mugabe's
      traditional base there but also the enduring
      popularity of the land redistribution campaign he
      launched in 2000, when he sanctioned invasions of
      white-owned commercial farms that were later given to

      "I was in ZANU-PF party, but this time I'm not sure,"
      said Lawrence Ndadziyira, 44, who said he fought under
      Mugabe in the liberation war of the 1970s but now eats
      just three days a week. "A lot of people, they are
      sick and tired about the government."

      Fakie Bernard, 34, a former ruling party supporter,
      said he still admired Mugabe but had lost faith in his
      party's ability to repair Zimbabwe's economy. "The
      people, they are crying for hunger," said Bernard, who
      has been unemployed since October. "It's too hard to
      find work."

      Mugabe supporters said they remained loyal because of
      the land program, which was criticized internationally
      as violent and chaotic. Patuma Mudaga, 46, said she
      received 15 acres, allowing her to support her five
      children more easily.
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