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Zimbabwe Ruling Party Wins Crucial By-Election in Opposition Stronghold - 2004-03-29

Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF party has won a crucial by-election in an opposition stronghold, amid reports from independent observers that the poll was neither free nor fair.

Zanu PF was celebrating after winning its first parliamentary seat in the Harare area since the opposition Movement for Democratic Change fought its first elections in 2000.

Winning candidate Christopher Chigumba replaces a former opposition member of parliament, who fled to Britain last year, claiming his life was in danger.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the non-governmental organization which observed the election, accused Zanu PF of most of the violence in recent weeks and of vote rigging and vote buying.

The head of the Election Support Network, Reginald Matchaba-Hove, said in an issued statement that free and fair elections can only take place in a tolerant political environment."

He also said it was worrying that law enforcement agents have been mentioned as being among the perpetrators of election violence.

The opposition says one of its lawmakers has been arrested and charged with attempted murder for discharging a weapon at a crowd of militant ruling-party youths during the weekend voting. Another opposition youth appeared in court accused of election violence.

No one has been arrested with in connection with the death of an opposition activist who died in a hail of bullets Sunday.

Ahead of this by-election, opposition campaigners said they were told by many traditional supporters that they were too frightened to go and vote.

The by-election was viewed by political analysts as a crucial test of the Movement for Democratic Change's strength in its urban strongholds before the next general election in March of next year.