Crucial elections for parliamentary seats are taking place this weekend in Zimbabwe. Both seats were won with massive majorities by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the 2000 elections. The ruling party is determined to win the seats.

The by-elections are taking place at a time of an upsurge in state violence against the opposition.

In both constituencies the opposition Movement for Democratic Change polled four times more votes than the ruling ZANU-PF candidates in the June 2000 general elections. In last year's presidential election, the opposition did even better in these constituencies.

But the ruling ZANU-PF party has made it clear that it intends to put up a strong fight for the seats. A ZANU-PF spokesman, Nathan Shamuyarira, told the state media earlier this week that the party was set to reverse its losses. He said the ruling party has done efficient campaigning and that voters are aware that ZANU-PF is the only party that can defend the gains of the war for independence.

Analysts say the ruling party's effort to win the seats has been characterized by much more than efficient campaigning.

The opposition was only given access to the list of eligible voters in both constituencies last week, but MDC officials say they have already found many irregularities. A spokesman for the opposition, Paul Themba Nyathi, said Thursday that thousands of names have been added to the list of voters, but none of those named live in either of the constituencies. He also said that many people have now been registered twice.

In another move that should benefit the ruling party, the opposition has been denied access to the publicly-owned media ahead of the elections, as happened during last year's presidential election.

In addition, the government says independent observers will not be allowed to supervise the polls. Instead, all election monitoring will be done by government observers.