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Election Could Mean Declining Support for Zimbabwe's Opposition

  • Peta Thornycroft

In Zimbabwe, an opposition candidate won a special election for a parliamentary seat representing a working class suburb of the capital, as expected. But, at least one analyst says, the results signaled dwindling support for the fractured opposition in what traditionally has been an opposition stronghold.

The candidate who won the special election was backed by the faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change that is loyal to the party's founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai. The movement split late last year, and both factions fielded candidates.

But poll watchers say the combined support for both factions was 50-percent lower than it was in last year's general election, before the party split.

Opposition legislator David Coltart, who has not yet joined either faction of the MDC, was formerly the united party's top election analyst. He had cautioned before the party split that failure to maintain a united front could fatally damage the opposition, and he called the results of Saturday's special election in a working class Harare suburb "disastrous."

The opposition has generally drawn its support in urban areas. But Coltart said the results of Saturday's special election indicate the ruling ZANU-PF party, has a strong core of support, even in urban areas.

The next big electoral test in Zimbabwe will be presidential elections due in 2008, when, Coltart predicts, President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1987, or his successor, would win for ZANU-PF.

The opposition MDC, which was formed in 1999, nearly defeated the ZANU-PF in general elections in 2000. The ruling party has won all major elections since then amid allegations of vote-rigging made by the opposition and western observers, a charge the party denies.

Following its election victory, Tsvangirai's faction of the MDC issued a statement saying it would begin focusing on democratic resistance. Tsvangirai has pledged to lead anti-ZANU-PF demonstrations around Zimbabwe in what he described as a winter of discontent.

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