The March 31 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections resulted in a victory for ZANU-PF, the ruling party led by President Robert Mugabe.

ZANU-PF won a two-thirds majority in the 150-member Parliament, including 78 elected seats and 30 appointed seats at the discretion of the president. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the country’s leading opposition party, captured 41 seats. One independent was also elected.

The legitimacy of the elections is a matter of controversy. The MDC alleges vote rigging. Discrepancies in vote tallies, instances of voter intimidation, and reports of the use as food as a political weapon are among the issues that have prompted the MDC and other disenchanted Zimbabweans to protest the official results.

In contrast with the 2002 elections, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions was denied the right to be an election monitor. Trade union activists in Zimbabwe have been harassed over the years by the Mugabe government. ZCTU helped found the MDC in 1999.

International election monitors issued mixed reports.

The African Union observer team, headed by Dr. Kwadwo Afiri-Gyan, called for an investigation of voting irregularities. Observers from the Congress of South African Trade Unions also called for an official probe. A COSATU spokesman said the opposition’s charges that 10 percent to 25 percent of potential voters may have been turned away at the polls deserved close examination.

Observers from both the South African government and Southern African Development Community (SADC), on the other hand, suggested that the standards of free and fair elections had basically been met.

At a post-election press conference, South African observer mission leader Membathisi Mdladlana said, “Concerning alleged acts of intimidation and the tampering with elections posters, there is a general agreement that the police were impartial. Polling day proceeded without any notable irregularities reported and voters did not wait in queues for a long time. We had visited all provinces, we had people deployed throughout the country and we trust their judgment.”

Mdladlana added, “Our conclusion is that Zimbabweans have expressed their will in these elections.”

SADC mission leader Victor Tonchi said, “We have visited all provinces as a team and we liased with various organizations, including political parties. Although the mission noted positive developments in the legal environment which allowed improved access to the media in the run-up to the elections, there is need for further improvement towards equitable coverage of all political party contestants, especially in the public media.”

Critics of the election results, however, cite a longstanding general atmosphere of intimidation, violence and repression in the country that worked in ZANU-PF’s favor. Immediately after the vote, the MDC’s headquarters were surrounded by a significant police presence.

It should be noted that the MDC has received support from Britain and the U.S. The Bush administration has been particularly critical of the election results and Mugabe’s government, calling it an “outpost of tyranny.” Mugabe’s charge that the West is backing his opponents for its own neocolonial motives therefore has a certain resonance.

Zimbabwe, a nation of 12.6 million people, is a former British colony. Its population faces acute economic problems as a result of policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Mugabe, 81, led Zimbabwe’s liberation movement in the late 1970s.