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Ahead Of By-Elections, Zimbabwe Ruling Party Takes Rural Wards By Default

One month before a round of 21 rural council by-elections, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has announced that the country's ruling party has already locked up 15 rural wards due to the failure of the political opposition to present candidates.

But a spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai said the MDC grouping filed nomination papers in all 21 of the wards to be contested, but that those nominations were thrown out by nomination judges in a replay of what happened in the run-up to last October’s rural elections.

The electoral commission said elections will be held Feb. 17 in just six wards in the Chikomba, Rusape, Umguza, Bulilima and Redcliffe councils, where the Tsvangirai MDC faction managed to secure nomination papers for its candidates.

Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the news came as a surprise because the faction expected to contest in all 21 wards where seats were not filled in October.

The ruling ZANU-PF, whose base of support is heavily rural, took 1,247 of the 1,340 seats filled then. The MDC only won 89 seats in the October 28 elections.

Speaking for the rival Arthur Mutambara faction of the opposition,Gabriel Chaibva said his party did not field candidates because the wards are ZANU-PF strongholds.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...