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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zimbabwe Vote Boycott Seeks Reform

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwe's weak and fractious political opposition may win constitutional reforms soon after bruising President Robert Mugabe's pride by boycotting last weekend's presidential elections, political analysts say.

They say the unexpected total opposition boycott, making Mugabe victor without a fight, had embarrassed the 72-year-old leader of the all-powerful ruling ZANU-PF party who was keen to showcase Zimbabwe as a thriving democracy.

Fewer than half of Zimbabwe's 4.9 million voters cast ballots in an election seen as a mere formality after a boycott by the incumbent Mugabe's challengers.

Interim figures released by election officials on Monday showed that 1,537,086 people -- about 31.4 percent of registered voters -- voted in the March 16 to 17 elections which Mugabe had won by default after his two opponents pulled out of the race.

"They will try to put up a brave face by calling the opposition cowards and continuing to dismiss demands for constitutional reforms ... but I think once the dust has settled, they will try to do something about it," said John Makumbe, a political analyst at Harare's University of Zimbabwe.

"ZANU-PF is clearly hurt by the boycott and that's probably worth more than the opposition would have got from the elections," he said of the March 16 to 17 poll which many people had expected Mugabe to win even before the boycott.

The total boycott, unusual for a generally quarrelsome opposition, was achieved after Bishop Abel Muzorewa of United Parties and veteran opposition leader Ndabaningi Sithole of the small right wing ZANU-Ndonga party quit the presidential race at the last minute.

Muzorewa, 71, and Sithole, 76, joined four other opposition leaders who had refused to run in protest against what they see as unfair electoral rules favoring Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

They complain of Mugabe's tight control of dominant state media, his powers to appoint election supervisors as well as 20 members to Zimbabwe's 150-seat parliament, and ZANU-PF's use of and access to state resources, including an annual government subsidy of more than $3.6 million.

Zimbabwe's supreme court, which rejected Muzorewa's 11th-hour attempt to delay the presidential elections on these grievances, is due to consider in June an application by his United Parties to declare the electoral laws unconstitutional.

"I think ZANU-PF may want to forestall a court ruling on that ... and we may start seeing it working on some reforms before then," Makumbe said.

In the past Mugabe and ZANU-PF have dismissed the opposition demands as useless and a cover-up for their organizational weaknesses.

"That argument will and does not hold water. There is need to revisit quite a number of laws in our books, including the electoral laws and I think, deep down, even ZANU-PF realizes that," said Welshman Ncube, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe.

But both Ncube and Makumbe said the opposition would have to stay together and press ZANU-PF for reforms.