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Zimbabwe Opposition Reports Pre-Election Attacks on Supporters - 2004-03-12


In Zimbabwe, the main opposition party is reporting attacks on its supporters in the run-up to a special election for a crucial parliamentary seat.

The Movement for Democratic Change says three of its members distributing leaflets in the constituency were attacked Tuesday, several houses belonging to known opposition supporters were vandalized and the MDC candidate himself was stoned.

Last weekend, an opposition rally in the constituency, which was to be addressed by its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was stopped by a group of about 30 ruling party supporters. MDC activists have gone into hiding for fear of further violence.

Those are among the events that have marred the campaign in special elections to be held in a constituency on the outskirts of Harare at the end of March. The seat was vacated by an MDC legislator who fled the country last year fearing for his safety.

The seat is crucial for the opposition party, because losing it would bring President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, ZANU-PF, within a whisker of a two-thirds majority in the national parliament. With a two-thirds majority, ZANU-PF could amend the constitution.

MDC admits it made a mistake by naming a candidate, rather than following the usual procedure of allowing potential candidates to reach consensus among themselves. MDC Spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said this has curtailed public debate on issues important for the opposition constituency, and may backfire.

Moreover, he said, fear of violence against opposition supporters may keep many voters away from the polls.

Some political analysts say the MDC may well lose this traditionally safe seat, as well as another one in the Matabeleland province. That, they say, would leave the ruling ZANU-PF just two seats short of a two-thirds majority in parliament.