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The BBC's Peter Van Velsen:
"Never in 20 years of independence have the ruling party lost an election"
 real 28k

The BBC's Grant Ferrett reports from Harare
"This remarkable result represents a stunning defeat for the government"
 real 28k

Lovemore Madhuku, National Constitutional Assembly
"The people are no longer confident in the government"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 12:42 GMT
A heady day in Harare

Celebrations on the streets of Harare

Zimbabwe's constitutional referendum signals a setback for the ruling party. Joseph Winter witnessed the jubilant atmosphere in Harare as results came in.

The atmosphere was electric in the press centre as the final 18 constituency results were announced.

Everybody was going to vote No, it was all over the streets
Young Zimbabwean
Journalists, not generally known for their mathematical ability, were frantically trying to work out running totals for the Yes and No camps.

It became clear that the Yes votes were not enough to bridge the gap and those who sympathised with the No campaign struggled to suppress smiles of satisfaction.

Dancing in the streets

Just down Herbert Chitepo Avenue from the press centre, at the headquarters of the No campaign, the party began even before the results were officially announced.

A large crowd danced and sang in the street, while passing motorists honked their horns to join the celebrations.

The No vote is a real blow to the authority of President Mugabe
An army lorry passed by. Fortunately, the soldiers remained impassive, there was no trouble and it carried on its way with a "Vote No" poster stuck to its side.

Tendai Biti and the seven other No campaigners who had spent 48 hours in police cells for campaigning near a polling station on Sunday, were carried shoulder-high by the jubilant crowd, although it looked like what they really needed was a bath and some rest.

They were released earlier in the day, when the magistrates court ordered that the charges be dropped.

'Yellow card Mugabe'

The crowd waved posters saying "Yellow card Mugabe" and "Tanaura Jongwe", meaning "we've plucked the feathers of the cockerel" - the cockerel being the symbol of Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe.

What next for the president?
They shouted that President Mugabe's red card would come in April's parliamentary elections.

First thing this morning, the No campaign had warned of possible rigging by the government in order to overturn the overnight lead of the No campaign.

Soldiers were deployed onto the streets to guard key installations, such as the national television studios, in case of any unrest.

But with a No victory, trouble is unlikely in city centres where the government is unpopular.

Ecstatic and unsurprised

On the streets of central Harare, people were ecstatic.

I didn't understand the constitution. I read it in English and Shona. I wasn't prepared to vote
Harare resident
One schoolboy, aged about seven, told me: "Mugabe is gone".

An older security guard said, grinning: "After 20 years of independence Zimbabwe is poor. I'm happy the No votes have won".

Despite Mr Mugabe's ZANU-PF party having easily won every election since 1980, some young Zimbabweans were not surprised at his defeat.

"Everybody was going to vote No, it was all over the streets. The Yes was dominating on the TV but we knew that most people were going to say No," said one.

But one woman said "I didn't understand the constitution. I read it in English and Shona. I wasn't prepared to vote."

Out of a potential electorate of 5m, just 26% cast their votes.

While the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, the most prominent element of the No campaign is now predicting victory in April, this result will undoubtedly force Zanu-PF to reconsider its strategy and, like a wounded animal, will come out fighting.

Mobilising the majority of Zimbabweans who stayed at home for the referendum will be the key to winning those elections.

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See also:
15 Feb 00 |  Africa
Analysis: Zimbabwe's no vote
11 Feb 00 |  Africa
President Mugabe's referendum test
15 Feb 00 |  Africa
Profile: Zimbabwe's strongman Mugabe
19 Nov 99 |  Africa
Zimbabwe constitution: Just a bit of paper?
07 Jan 00 |  Africa
Analysis: Zimbabwe's land troubles
01 Jul 99 |  Zimbabwe
Mugabe's long shadow

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