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THE results of a by election in a working class Harare suburb Saturday confirmed that support for the opposition has declined dramatically and that a Zanu PF victory at the next national poll is almost certain.

This was the first parliamentary by election since the Movement for Democratic Change split into two factions eight months ago.

The seat was won by Emmanuel Chisvuure loyal to founding MDC
president Morgan Tsvangirai.

There has been little political violence in Zimbabwe in the last 16 months and the run up to Saturday’s election in Budiriro -- a working class area close to heavy industry -- was peaceful and dull.

Support for both MDC factions in Budiriro, the strongest constituency in the opposition’s Harare heartland was less than 50 percent than at the general election last year.

Its support was only a third of what it was when the united MDC fought its first election in 2000 and nearly defeated Zanu PF.

Zanu PF on the other hand retained its core support at around 4000 votes over four elections in the last six years, even at Saturday’s by election where voter turnout is usually lower than at national polls.

Saturday’s voter statistics are a grievous blow to Tsvangirai or any opposition politician’s chances of becoming president of Zimbabwe in the foreseeable future.

The hard fact exposed by Saturday’s by election is that unless the MDC is hugely rejuvenated or the two factions reunite, President Robert Mugabe’s deputy Joice Mujuru will have little trouble winning the next presidential election in March 2008.

“The people are tired of voting, as nothing gets better,” said a young man on his way back from voting on Saturday.

He said he had voted for the candidate in the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC.

In the final tally, Mutambara’s candidate only got 504 votes, which if added to 7949 cast for Tsvangirai’s man was still less than half the number it scored in the 2005 general election.

David Coltart, the MDC MP for Bulawayo South, who was the united MDC’s election statistical analyst said Sunday he was “depressed” at the “disastrous” result.

Coltart who has not yet joined either MDC faction, instituted the legal challenge to the violent 2002 presidential election in which he claims he has proof that Tsvangirai beat Mugabe by 70 000 votes.

He also predicted when the party split that the two factions can never be as strong as when the party was united.

“We have seen again that Zanu PF has got an unshakeable core of support even in urban areas where everyone suffers from more than 1000 per cent inflation.

“In the next presidential election where every vote counts, we face a Zanu PF victory without them having to resort to rigging.

“The MDC’s support has halved in Budiriro, its strongest constituency, and Zanu PF has probably increased its support in rural areas as people have been given land. They also had a good rainy season and there is a hedge against inflation out there as housing and water are usually free.”

Budiriro does not contain all the answers to the question of when the New Zimbabwe we seek will arrive.

The reality is that the further south you go in Zimbabwe, the MDC votes between the two factions would be much more evenly split.

What does it say about the direction of the MDC that the winning candidate in Budiriro was suspended from the party for two years in June 2005 for his role in violence against party officials?

Gabriel Chaibva, the candidate for the other faction led by Mutambara made some serious allegations in the run-up to the election that his campaign posters were pulled down, not by Zanu PF, but by Tsvangirai's loyalists.

These are the bare facts that confront the stage masters of the euphoric celebration of the MDC victory (defeat) in Budiriro.

When they sober-up, they will wake up to the reality that far from making progress, Budiriro has demonstrated that the party has taken giant steps backwards.

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