It has been five years since the launch of Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Party leader Morgan Tsvangirai says the period has been marked by increased state repression.

When the Movement for Democratic Change was formed in September 1999 it was the first national, mass-based party to emerge since independence in 1980. The ruling Zanu PF held more than 90 percent of the seats in parliament before the last general election in 2000.

The MDC came close to winning a majority.

MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai said the trade unions and other social movements out of which his party emerged were at first not prepared for ever increasing repression.

"There was a degree of euphoria and sometimes naive euphoria, about what was going to take place," Mr. Tsvangirai says. "We did not expect the level of violence, we did not expect that the state, and Mugabe in particular, would be determined to hang on in spite of national and international opinion. We were very confident that change was inevitable. But I think the reality has shown that Mugabe was determined to defy all the odds and hang in."

Months after the MDC was launched it defeated a ruling ZANU-PF referendum and two weeks later Mr. Mugabe sent his supporters to take over white-owned farms. Africa criticized the MDC for what it saw as an alliance with whites who owned too much land.

"Africa is very sensitive to white on black oppression naturally, we understand that," Mr. Tsvangirai says. "But the perception created that white farmers, because again connect to the land issue, supported the MDC, yes, it did hurt because people could not distinguish this was not a land crisis but a crisis of governance. They could not accept the reality that ZANU-PF had misruled, declared war against its own people, that there were serious violations of human rights. They would rather believe it was white farmers who were trying to reverse a genuine land-reform program to resolve the historical dispute on land ownership, injustice on land ownership, so yes, to some extent that perception created some problems for MDC."

Another criticism of the MDC is it took its message first to the west, and only later to Africa.

"As an opposition party, we were not accepted in official circles, so we went to the people who would listen to our cause, would understand where we were coming from and will genuinely take some interest," Mr. Tsvangirai says. "Eventually we knew that we would have to return to the African continent, which has succeeded. I have been [to] West Africa, to southern Africa. So the question is do you start off in hostile areas, or start off in acceptable areas and then work from there backwards."

Last month the cash strapped MDC, suspended participation in all elections until Mr. Mugabe reforms laws in accordance with principles he endorsed at a recent regional summit in Mauritius.

Mr. Tsvangirai says that despite violence and continuing arrests of its leaders, the MDC has matured from being a protest movement to a political party He said the MDC would take part in the general election next March if Mr. Mugabe complies with the regional norms and standards for free and fair elections.