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Zimbabwe Opposition Is Quiet After Vote

Some Are Eager to Protest Against Mugabe's Victory, but Leadership Remains Subdued

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page A29

HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 2 -- Aiden Taurai Mpani woke up in a fighting mood. The wiry 28-year-old with a thin beard and an intense gaze said he had no doubt that the opposition party's disastrous showing in Zimbabwe's parliamentary vote resulted from rigging. So Saturday morning, when the extent of the ruling party's landslide was finally clear, Mpani went downtown to wait for his party's leaders to rally their supporters onto the streets.

"We're not going to turn back," Mpani said, standing within sight of the parliament building, which he was sure the opposition would soon claim as its own. The opposition, he said, would march until President Robert Mugabe said, " 'Okay, I'll step down.' "

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the primary opposition movement, has said the recent elections were fraudulent, but has not called for opposition protests. (Radu Sigheti -- Reuters)

But the call to march never came.

The streets of Zimbabwe's major cities remained quiet as Mugabe boasted of his victory on national television and announced plans to use his two-thirds majority in parliament to rewrite the constitution. The opposition's top leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, declined for the second straight day to say publicly what action, if any, Zimbabweans should take to resist what he insisted were flawed and fraudulent elections this past week.

Tsvangirai said Mugabe's party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, had used several tactics, including manipulation of voter rolls and the exclusion of poll observers, to win 78 of 120 contested seats in the 150-seat parliament. The opposition was left with 41 seats, and an independent candidate took one. Mugabe appoints the remaining 30 seats.

The opposition distributed leaflets calling on supporters to "pressurize the government" to reverse the results.

Yet, when asked at a news conference to say whether he favored demonstrations, Tsvangirai snapped at reporters: "This is not a court of law."

Any public gatherings not approved explicitly in advance by the police are essentially illegal under Zimbabwe's laws. In his comments Saturday, Mugabe made clear that anyone protesting against the election results would meet resistance.

"We can also raise mass action against their mass action, and there would obviously be conflict, serious conflict," Mugabe said at a news conference, flanked by two life-sized stuffed lions.

Mugabe said members of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had shown themselves to be "a very violent people" incapable of peaceful protest.

Mugabe, who has ruled this southern African country since its independence in 1980, is one of the continent's longest-serving leaders, regarded by analysts as among the final remnants of a bygone era of Big Men with little taste for multi-party democracy or for stepping down before they are ready.

Tsvangirai has few options to fight back. Even calling for protests could be regarded as illegal under the country's Public Order and Security Act. And a lawsuit alleging electoral misdeeds could be indefinitely delayed, as was one suit challenging the fairness of the 2002 presidential vote.

Mugabe said the opposition should "accept its defeat and not look for all sorts of excuses that might complicate relations."

But some opposition activists, including Mpani, were in no mood to give up so easily.

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