Mugabe to launch phoney parties 'to confuse electors'

Gore condemns 'this disgraceful encouragement of racial violence' as Commonwealth ministers poised to censure Harare
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The Independent Online

Against a backdrop of continuing intimidation of opposition supporters, President Robert Mugabe will tomorrow launch the manifesto of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), ahead of parliamentary elections which have yet to be announced.

At the same time, there is mounting evidence that the latest tactic in Zanu-PF's campaign to stay in power will be the launch of an increasing number of "suitcase parties" - apparently independent groupings formed by the ruling party to confuse the political landscape and which, ultimately, will support the government.

In London today, Zimbabwe is expected to face censure from a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. But despite being in the grip of political violence which has claimed at least 14 lives, it is believed the country will not be suspended from the body as long as there is a prospect of the elections - already twice delayed - going ahead before the constitutional deadline of August.

Today in the capital, Harare, President Mugabe is to chair a cabinet meeting at which an election date may be set. But yesterday, Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Chen Chimutengwende, would only say that the meeting would concentrate on reviewing the result of last week's bilateral talks in London over land redistribution.

In a further measure of international frustration at the Zimbabwean leader's apparent isolationist glee, the US Vice President, Al Gore, yesterday called the 76-year-old's behaviour "disgraceful'' and "horrifying''. He told The Boston Globe: "We have been trying everything to influence the parties to stabilise the country and to influence him to stop this disgraceful encouragement of racial violence." Even though two rallies of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) went ahead and were addressed by its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's trade unions did not - for the first time since the end of white rule in 1980 - mark May Day. Instead, citing security fears, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), formerly headed by Mr Tsvangirai, urged workers to stay at home, "think deeply, and pray for peace, social progress and a lasting solution to current problems".

In a statement, the ZCTU raised the possibility of renewing its campaign of workers' "stay-aways" - a tactic used by Mr Tsvangirai in 1998 before the MDC was born and which aimed to highlight the hardships caused by Zanu-PF's economic mismanagement. The announcement by government media yesterday that 5.1 million people had registered to vote - a figure which contradicts a statement late in March that 2 million voters figured on the new roll - was seen as a sign that Zanu-PF will soon be ready to proceed with elections.

Only the constituency demarcation process now has to be completed. In government circles, there was increasing speculation that President Mugabe would opt for elections in mid-June.

This would allow for the visible implementation, within the next few weeks, of forced land transfers through the repeal by presidential decree of the country's land acquisition act - a move which is necessary to legally cancel commercial farmers' titles on their businesses. President Mugabe said at a rally on 7 April that his government wanted 6 million of the 12 million hectares controlled by commercial farmers.

In a sign of a new electioneering tactic by Zanu-PF, The Independent learned yesterday of the arrival of six four-tonne trucks from South Africa carrying printing and computer equipment. This was believed to be destined for use by the new "suitcase parties'' which are expected to begin circulating pro-government pamphlets shortly.

Until now, the ruling party has concentrated its electioneering on highlighting the land issue, claiming whites were conspiring against it, and intimidating voters. At least 14 people have died, 12 of them farm workers accused of supporting the MDC. Of the workers killed, two had been publicly hanged by mobs purporting to be war veterans.