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Zimbabwe Opposition: First Step Toward Elections Unfair

The Zimbabwe government has taken the first legal step to allow a general election in March by publishing a list of voting districts. The opposition is angry that the new list eliminates some voting districts in its strongholds.

Some journalists have copies of the new voting districts, called constituencies, in Zimbabwe. The new district plan may be published Friday, accompanied by a map. That will be the first legal step to declare the election period.

State radio reported the Delimitation Commission appointed by President Robert Mugabe has merged six urban constituencies to form three. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won all six parliamentary seats in those districts in the 2000 general election.

Three additional voting districts have been created in the ruling Zanu PF party's traditional rural strongholds.

There are 120 parliamentary seats and the winner of the majority forms the government.

In 2000, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was only nine months old when it won 57 seats, and almost 50 percent of the vote, mostly in urban areas.

Drawing up the boundaries, according to state radio, was determined by grouping together groups of about 47, 000 registered voters in each of the 120 constituencies.

MDC spokesman, Paul Themba Nyathi says the data used to draw up the boundaries was suspicious. He said the Movement for Democratic Change had again been denied access to an electronic version of the voters roll to check it.

The Movement for Democratic Change is to decide in early January whether to contest parliamentary polls, scheduled for March.

Independent observers say that neither the 2000 general election nor the presidential poll two years later were free and fair.

In August the Movement for Democratic Change suspended participation in elections until the government reformed electoral laws to comply with regional election principles agreed to in August by Mr. Mugabe. The Movement for Democratic Change says reforms made so far are minor and do not change the fundamental way in which Zimbabwe runs elections. It says repressive security and media laws remain.

MDC Secretary-General Welshman Ncube says the opposition would not be able to challenge the voters' roll in court unless it had an electronic version so that more than five million names on the roll could be checked.

The University of Zimbabwe's recent research on population trends says it is unlikely that there are five million voters above the voting age of 18.

Parliament was adjourned Monday until February 8, although justice minister Patrick Chinamasa says it is unlikely to meet again before the general election. The Movement for Democratic Change says this means the door has been shut on any possibility of changes to existing laws.