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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Tough test for Zanu-PF
President Mugabe on campaign trail
President Mugabe's party is playing the land card
By Grant Ferrett in Harare

Zimbabwe's fifth parliamentary elections pose the greatest challenge to the dominance of President Mugabe's ruling party, Zanu-PF, since it came to power at independence 20 years ago.

The government's defeat in a referendum on a proposed new constitution in February has left it badly shaken, but with an apparently undiminished appetite for office.



Our government has abandoned all international constitutional and legal standards

Opposition leader Tendai Biti
"Zanu-PF did not contest the referendum as a party. We will fight the parliamentary elections as a party," said President Mugabe at the launch of his party's election manifesto.

"Now you will see what we are truly made of."

Given the widespread attacks by government supporters and war veterans on opposition sympathisers and white farmers since February, it was a promise loaded with menace.

At least 29 people have been killed and hundreds left injured or homeless in a pre-election campaign of violence which, at the very least, has been condoned by the government.

Rule of law

"More of us will die before the elections," Tendai Biti, a leading opposition figure, recently warned demonstrators who had been prevented from holding a rally in support of the rule of law.


Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe
Morgan Tsvangirai and his opposition MDC say the rule of law has broken down
"The tragedy of Zimbabwe is that our government has abandoned all international constitutional and legal standards.

"It is creating the violence in an effort to stay in power. We must reclaim our rights and vote them out."

The preoccupation with violence and the decline in the rule of law has overshadowed all other potential campaign issues.

Land

The government would like to concentrate on the land question.



We will fight the parliamentary elections as a party... Now you will see what we are truly made of

President Mugabe
Since its referendum defeat, it has officially sanctioned the illegal occupation of more than 1,300 white-owned farms and amended the constitution to allow the state to acquire land without paying compensation.

"Land is the economy and the economy is land," runs the ruling party's campaign slogan, implying that Zimbabwe's many economic ills could be resolved by land redistribution.

The party also promises to create 850,000 new jobs and to build one million new homes in the next five years.

Economic analysts dismiss the pledges as fanciful.

The opposition, too, says it will make land reform a high priority, but insists that any redistribution programme must be lawful and benefit poor, small-scale farmers rather than a corrupt elite.

Ailing economy

Its main concern, though, is the disastrous deterioration of the economy.

Zimbabwe has almost completely run out of foreign exchange to pay for imports, contributing to recurring shortages of fuel.

Inflation, already at an annual rate of 60%, is expected to jump dramatically in the next few months.

The problems are compounded by the land invasions, which have undermined investor confidence and are expected to create food shortages before the end of the year.

Whoever wins the elections will face immediate and serious economic problems which will require international support if they are to be resolved.

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06 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Eyewitness: Fear and intimidation
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