A sweeping victory for Zimbabwe's opposition party in a key mayoral election in the city of Bulawayo has dealt a blow to President Robert Mugabe, and ushered in a spirit of political change, observers said yesterday.
On Monday the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) overwhelmingly defeated the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) by winning the post of mayor in Bulawayo, a city of more than 600,000 people.
The MDC captured 60,988 votes to ZANU-PF's 12,783.
Observers say the opposition win is a forecast of Zimbabwe's future political climate as it approaches presidential elections in early 2001.
ZANU-PF's defeat is reminiscent of last year's June general elections, in which the MDC swept 21 out of 23 constituencies in the western province of Matabeleland, of which Bulawayo is capital.
"The spirit of political change was there," new mayor Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube told AFP Monday.
State radio Tuesday downplayed the victory, describing the 20 percent turnout of more than 300,000 registered voters as "apathetic."
But people from the region were upbeat.
Speaking from Bulawayo, Felix Mafa of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), a civic rights body, said: "I think the people of Zimbabwe are awakening from a deep slumber and pursuing democratic principles."
He attributed the low turnout to the current economic situation, which he said had forced many registered voters out of Bulawayo in search of work.
Zimbabwe has been wracked by mounting political, social, and economic unrest for nearly two years, in large part over Mugabe's controversial land reforms aimed at seizing white-owned farms for resettlement by blacks.
The land reforms have been accompanied by violent land invasions by pro-government militants, and have crippled the country's once-vibrant agricultural industry.