Mugabe rejects call for rerun and jokes of '20 more years'

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The Independent Online

A crushing election victory has tightened President Robert Mugabe's grip on power in Zimbabwe but the main opposition party is demanding a rerun of a poll they insist was rigged.

Mr Mugabe, 81, was in triumphant mood, joking that he would remain in office for another 20 years. He told reporters he would retire "when I am a century old".

While the election officer was declaring that the ruling Zanu-PF party had won overwhelmingly, most Zimbabweans were resigning themselves to continued food shortages, high unemployment, and soaring inflation.

"As you can see, we are trying to drown our sorrow," said Dan Tabisa, 40, as he sat in a bar in the second largest city, Bulawayo. "We thought there would be change this time, but it's the same old story. This means five more years of suffering for us."

Monitors from the African Union, and government delegations from Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa, have given their seal of approval to the parliamentary elections held on Thursday last week.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of the Southern African Development Community, said: "We are saying that this election was free. The process was credible. It reflects the will of the people of Zimbabwe."

The European Union and the United States, which were not permitted to send observers, have consistently said the elections are fraudulent, but their criticism has had no effect on Mr Mugabe. Zanu-PF won 78 seats, easily beating the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which won only 41 - 16 fewer than in the previous election. The President has the prerogative to fill another 30 seats.

Zanu-PF will now have the two-thirds majority it needs to change the constitution and set up a second chamber to work alongside parliament. Mr Mugabe has long wanted to create a senate filled with senior politicians he has appointed himself. Mr Mugabe, whose term of office expires in 2008, also wants to amend the constitution so that if he dies, one of his deputies will succeed him automatically. Under the current laws, elections would have to be called to elect a new president.

The only major setback for Mr Mugabe came in the southern constituency of Tsholotsho, where his former information minister, Jonathan Moyo, ran successfully against both Zanu-PF and MDC - making him the only independent candidate to win a seat.

The MDC's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said: "Today, the world has seen the extent to which Mugabe is determined to hold on to power without due regard to the people. This election cannot be accepted as a reflection of Zimbabwe's will."

The Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, had called for peaceful demonstrations, but Mr Mugabe made it clear he would not allow the MDC to hold even peaceful marches. "They are not peaceful people. Law and order instruments will be used to prevent any mass action that is likely to lead to lawlessness in the country," he said.

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