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Zimbabwe Vote Tightens Rulers' Grip on Power

Western Governments, Opposition Denounce Elections as Rigged

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 2, 2005; Page A15

HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 1 -- The party of President Robert Mugabe tightened its 25-year grip on power Friday, gaining control of at least two-thirds of the country's parliament after elections that his political opponents, human rights groups and many Western governments denounced as rigged and a betrayal of the national will.

A day after a nationwide vote, results that trickled in throughout Friday showed Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) with 74 seats compared with 40 for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Before Thursday's election, the opposition controlled 51 seats. In overall votes cast, ZANU-PF received 59 percent to 40 percent for MDC. One seat went to an independent candidate, Jonathan Moyo, the information minister who was fired by Mugabe in February after years in which he oversaw a sweeping crackdown on the nation's independent journalists.

Supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling party carry a mock coffin representing the opposition movement, while celebrating the party's apparent victory in legislative elections. The party won enough seats to secure approval of a rewritten constitution. (Howard Burditt -- Reuters)

_____Zimbabwe's Election_____
Questions and Answers
_____Washington Post Coverage_____
In Zimbabwe, an Irregular But Less Violent Election (The Washington Post, Apr 1, 2005)
In Zimbabwe, 'There's No Reason to Be Scared' (The Washington Post, Mar 31, 2005)
In Zimbabwe, Withholding of Food Magnifies the Hunger for Change (The Washington Post, Mar 30, 2005)
An Outcast Plots Return In Zimbabwe (The Washington Post, Mar 26, 2005)

The results from 14 more districts were to be announced Saturday morning, officials said. But with Mugabe appointing 30 seats in addition to the 120 contested on Thursday, it was clear his party would control at least two-thirds of parliament, the margin required for ZANU-PF to be able to rewrite the constitution to further entrench its power.

After an initial surge of opposition victories in its urban strongholds, a succession of rural precincts reported overwhelming victories for Mugabe's party, even in places where journalists and other independent observers reported few voters and little enthusiasm for the ruling party.

"There's just absolute brazen rigging going on," said David Coltart, an opposition member of parliament from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city. "I don't expect us to win a single rural seat."

Observers from neighboring countries said in preliminary remarks that the election was open and transparent, but the U.S. State Department called it "seriously tainted."

"Given everything that's gone on during [the] whole election process, including some of the reports we're getting now, it would be very hard to say that these are free and fair," said Richard A. Boucher, the department's spokesman.

Alleged examples of rigging came in myriad forms, from the names of deceased people on voter rolls to extreme gerrymandering of districts to the intentional miscounting of ballots in rural areas beyond the reach of independent monitors. The supposedly indelible purple ink painted on the pinkies of voters to prevent them from casting multiple ballots was easily washed off.

In Manyame district, the election commission announced that 14,812 people voted and that the ruling party's candidate received 15,448 votes.

Election results also showed that about 10 percent of voters nationwide were turned away at the polls, fueling suspicion that some opposition supporters were purged from voter rolls.

As the ruling party's victory became apparent, attention turned increasingly to whether opposition leaders would call for demonstrations to protest results.

In a morning news conference, the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, called on Zimbabweans to "defend their vote."

"We do not accept that this represents the national sentiment," he said of the election. "This government has fraudulently, once again, denied the people."

But he stopped short of calling for protests, a step that many supporters interviewed Friday in Harare, the capital, said they would favor.

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