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Opposition Divisions Cited as Ruling Party Advances in Zimbabwe Municipal Ballots

Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party made incursions into traditional strongholds of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in weekend municipal elections, though explanations of its gains ranged from opposition divisions to ballot manipulation.

In Bulawayo, long an MDC stronghold, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front of President Robert Mugabe picked up two city council seats, leading some to speculate that the split which has developed in the MDC since October 2005 has weakened its appeal to voters or discouraged them from turning out.

Some opposition members told correspondent Babongile Dlamini of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that they ignored the election due to the MDC's split into two factions.

In the Mashonaland West province town of Chegutu, ZANU-PF candidate Martin Zimani won election as mayor by 3,236 votes to 2,335 for MDC candidate Francis Dhlakama. But 2,183 voters were turned away from the polls, having been struck from the municipal electoral list because of their origins in neighboring countries such as Malawi, this under a constitutional amendment the ruling party passed in 2005.

The opposition also alleged vote-buying by the ruling party. Chegutu police arrested three opposition members for allegedly assaulting ruling party members, but the MDC members charged that ZANU-PF supporters had been promising food for votes.

Studio 7 correspondent Arthur Chigoriwa filed a report on the Chegutu race.

Spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi of the so-called pro-senate MDC faction, which ran candidates in the November 2005 senate election despite a call for a boycott from the party's founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai, said the loss of seats in the Bulawayo municipal elections was a wake-up call for the deeply divided opposition.

Nyathi told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyele of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that voter disenchantment was a greater factor in the MDC loss than ZANU-PF intimidation.

Speaking for the Tsvangirai faction, Nelson Chamisa said the ruling party's gains were strictly due to vote-rigging and intimidation. He said his faction of the party would set a policy on election participation and strategy at its congress later this month.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission spokesperson Sly Gwana said results for Bulawayo, Chegutu, Chinhoyi, Binga, Zvishavane and Kadoma would be made public Tuesday. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a nongovernmental organization, said it could only monitor balloting in Chegutu due to financial constraints.

ZESN National Director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, speaking with reporter Mwakalyele, cited a number of factors in the poor turnout in the round of municipal elections.

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