Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF party has said its victory on Monday at a crucial special election in the opposition's stronghold in the Matabeleland province marks the end of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Obert Mpofu, one of two governors in Matabelaland said the people of Lupane have shown that the MDC is a spent force and will disappear before the next parliamentary elections to be held in March 2005.

Out of a total of nearly 20,000 votes cast in Lupane, Zanu PF won by nearly 900 votes. Two-thousand people were not allowed to vote, for as yet undisclosed reasons, and about 1,000 needed government assistance to cast their vote.

Speaking to the state media shortly after Zanu PF's victory, Mr. Mpofu said the people have shown they do not want to be ruled by the MDC, which he described as a party of puppets sponsored by foreign interests.

David Coltart, MDC legal secretary, said the party is contemplating challenging the results of the election in court. But, expressing his own view, he said the legal challenge would most likely be pointless because none of 37 legal challenges from the general election of 2000 have been resolved.

The MDC challenged the results to the general election and the 2002 presidential poll, alleging that many people voted more than once. The party said it found out when it compared voter lists with votes cast in individual constituencies.

Last week, the government submitted a draft law to ban political parties' access to voter lists. The opposition MDC formally objected to the draft legislation, but in the past such objections had been routinely ignored.