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Zimbabwe Opposition Undecided on March Election

Leaders from Zimbabwe's main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change meet this weekend to debate whether to take part in parliamentary elections next March. Some MDC leaders are opposed to taking part in the election, but grassroots supporters say they want to fight the election.

The MDC believes it was robbed of victory in two national elections it fought previously -- the general election in 2000, when it obtained nearly half the parliamentary seats, and the presidential poll two years later which President Robert Mugabe won with a 15 percent majority.

International observers in those elections found evidence of fraud and concluded the ballots were neither free nor fair.

Zimbabwe's parliament, dominanted by the ruling Zanu-PF party, recently adopted new legislation amending the electoral laws, which the party claims now comply with regional principles of fairness. but civil society activists and independent analysts say the changes are cosmetic and will not allow for free and fair elections in March.

Lovemore Madhuku, is a veteran civil rights campaigner, whose organization has led the campaign for a new, more democratic constitution.

Like most civil rights activists, he says MDC should not take part in the upcoming poll.

"The only reason why they would participate is if they have no plan as to what to do outside parliament , if they have no idea, of what to do, they become like any other opposition political party to remain a party with one or two three seats in parliament," he said. "The MDC must not participate in the elections, they must make clear there is no point of participating. Then get out of the elections, regroup with the rest of civic society, make clear the demands and then outside of parliamentary process we fight the regime in the streets, in every fora.

And we are crying for the kind of things we want, a constitution, we want a fair electoral playing field, we want a free media," he added, "the things we keep talking about, we demand those things up front, When we have established election can only happen in that context."

Mr. Madhuku, who is a law professor at the University of Zimbabwe, says MDC's grass roots supporters want to take part in elections for many reasons.

"Grassroots people have not been fully exposed to what it means not to participate in elections," Mr. Madhuku noted. "So if they see life of a political party as being running for parliamentary seats, campaigning for the MP [Members of Parliament], getting some allowances and so forth for doing that, it's party life, party activity doing a.b.c.d. If we don't do that what else will we be doing? That's where there is a division, at grassroots level. It means a lot to be participating in elections. But the other intellectuals, not at grassroots, perhaps looking at a proper picture, saying, well, what is the point?"

The opposition party's leadership has not made its position public yet, and may not do so until it holds its general meeting next January, 10 weeks ahead of the polls.

While some party leaders are believed to be opposed to taking part in the March elections unless the political climate is normalized and electoral laws revamped, others say that the MDC could become irrelevant if it doesn not take part in the national poll.

Meanwhile, several times this week, police have refused to grant permission for the MDC to hold meetings.