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Zimbabwe Opposition Says Voters Heeded Call for Election Boycott

Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party is on its way to a decided win in elections for a newly created Senate. Observers say the turnout for Saturday's election was the lowest since independence in 1980.

Independent monitors say the overall average turnout for the Senate election was between 15 and 20 percent. In the March general election, 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

The low turnout Saturday indicated that many supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party, as well as the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, failed to vote.

The leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, thanked supporters for, in his words, "heeding our call for the boycott of this meaningless election." He said his call for a boycott was vindicated by the low turnout.

A faction within the opposition movement rejected the call to boycott the election and fielded 26 candidates.

In Harare, an MDC stronghold, the opposition lost all four seats its candidates contested. Early results show the MDC winning five seats, all in the southern city of Bulawayo. The opposition had hoped to win at least 10 seats.

Regardless of the final results, the ruling party has a guaranteed hold on the newly created Senate. ZANU-PF candidates ran unopposed for 19 of the 66 Senate seats. President Robert Mugabe appoints six other seats, and 10 are reserved for traditional leaders, selected by the Council of Chiefs, who are allied with Mr. Mugabe.

Gift Chamanikire, deputy secretary general of the MDC, and spokesman for the faction, which was pro participation in the senate election, said voter apathy from both main political parties, as well as the call for the boycott affected the result, and gave the ruling ZANU-PF a massive victory.

He said, despite political confusion and division in the MDC, and voter apathy, the people of Bulawayo had shown that it was possible for the opposition to defeat ZANU-PF in elections.

Many people said they responded to the call for the boycott, others said they were not going to vote because they were tired of elections and too busy looking for work and food.

The state controlled Sunday Mail newspaper, which usually reflects ZANU-PF thinking, said the turnout at the election was disappointing.

The senate was created following a controversial constitutional amendment in August.

Mr. Mugabe is set to make a victory speech Monday.