A Zinger in Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe's party appears to have won an election in Zimbabwe. But after 20 years of one-party and virtual one-man rule, voters have made it clear they want change.

That message is good news for for the often-difficult evolution of Africa toward democracy.

Voters gave an opposition coalition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), 57 out of the 120 seats at stake in last weekend's election for Parliament. That's an amazing sort of victory for a party that took shape in just a year. (See story on page 6.)

Under Mr. Mugabe's distorted electoral system, the president can appoint 20 members of Parliament, while 10 seats are chosen by local chiefs loyal to the president. So he'll retain a majority, but not enough to redraw the country's Constitution.

The rapid growth of the MDC shows that an African electorate is fully capable of coalescing around clearly defined interests and goals - in this case many Zimbabweans' desire for better economic management and a less corrupt government. The traditional "strong man" has been challenged.

The message from this election goes beyond Zimbabwe's borders to places such as Kenya, also in the grip of regressive one-party dominance.

The key question now is whether Mugabe can change his ways enough to work constructively with a powerful opposition. The country desperately needs economic stimulus. But Mugabe's policy of "land reform" through violent seizure of white-owned farms and disruption of the crucial agricultural sector accomplishes the opposite: destroying income and scaring off foreign investment and tourism.

In Zimbabwe, the politics of race and personal will are pass.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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