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By-elections to Test Weakening Support for Mugabe’s Party

October 23, 1989

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ The fading popularity of President Robert Mugabe’s governing party will be tested in four special parliamentary elections beginning Tuesday.

Six candidates opposed to Mugabe’s avowed aim of a one-party state in one of Africa’s few Western-style democracies will challenge four contenders from the governing Zimbabwe African National Union.

The outcome from the elections in rural areas will be a barometer of support for Mugabe’s movement. Most of the country’s 9 million people live in such areas.

The by-elections were set for Tuesday and Wednesday in the parliamentary districts of Chirumanzu, Gwanda, Kariba and Masvingo North. Results are expected to be announced Thursday.

The voting comes at a time of mounting disenchantment with a government that took over when the British colony of Rhodesia gained independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.

Many Zimbabweans are now upset about reports of top-level corruption and self-aggrandizement by politicians who preach egalitarian ideals.

Many in this country also complain about rising prices and shortages of basic commodities, mounting unemployment and a breakdown in public services.

Earlier this month, the University of Zimbabwe was closed after violent anti-government demonstrations. At least 15 students remained in detention.

The country’s top labor leader, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Morgan Tsvangirai, was also detained after he supported the students.

In addition, at least 11 officials of the opposition Zimbabwe Unity Movement who campaigned for this week’s by-election in the northwest Kariba constituency were detained on unspecified allegations.

At least 150,000 voters have registered for the by-elections, which will send candidates to the 100-member National Assembly. The seats were left vacant by the resignations of three politicians linked to official corruption and another politician who died.

Mugabe’s party is supported by all but two lawmakers in the National Assembly and the 40-seat Senate.

The leader of the Unity Movement, Edgar Tekere, holds one seat and an independent the other. Tekere’s movement vows to crush official corruption, attract foreign investment to create new jobs, and to keep Zimbabwe a multiparty socialist democracy.

Mugabe says he wants Zimbabwe transformed into a one-party state after general elections before April next year. To legally achieve his aim, he needs the unanimous support of Parliament.

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