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Ruling Party, Independent Candidate Launch Zimbabwe Election Campaigns

  • Peta Thornycroft

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe helped his ruling ZANU-PF party formally launch its campaign for the March 31 general elections Friday. Earlier this month, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change announced that it would contest the elections, despite earlier threats to boycott. But in addition to these two main parties, there will be at least one independent candidate.

Margaret Dongo, a former fighter in the independence war, was a lone opposition legislator between 1995 and 2000, when she exposed a number of scandals involving members of the ruling party.

In preparation for this election, she has been putting up posters and checking voter rolls in her district, where she says she has found duplications and exclusions.

In 2000, she lost re-election to the recently formed opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Now, she says, she is trying again, but she has rejected invitations to join the opposition.

"When people get into power, they forget whatever were the wishes of people,” she said. “Political parties are the same, regardless of where they come from. Politicians, regardless of color or creed, put power before the people. The moment they are elected into power, they cease to be the people's representatives. They are there to govern on their own wishes."

Mrs. Dongo, who is 43 and a mother of three, says the opposition is not strong enough to effectively challenge the ruling ZANU-PF party. She says many ZANU-PF leaders have been in politics since before she was born, and that many opposition legislators are inexperienced.

But she said the opposition party, which won nearly half the parliamentary seats in 2000, gave people hope at the time.

"If you look at the momentum, people are so depressed and disgruntled,” she added. “The coming up of MDC meant real change in terms of the attitude. I am happy for that. People did not know the importance of opposition, even if those guys were politically immature, to some extent they have left a dent."

Mrs. Dongo says she does not think a free and fair election is possible, and she fears Zimbabwe's poll could be marred by violence, because, she says, ZANU-PF is determined to stay in power.