HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe's ruling party won a two-thirds majority in Zimbabwe's disputed parliamentary elections, according to interim results released Saturday, but the opposition refused to accept the results, saying the vote was flawed.
"This is a moment of victory for my party and the victory of my party translates itself, naturally, into a victory for our country," a jubilant Mugabe declared as the final votes were being counted.
His ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front won 74 seats, compared with 40 for the MDC. One seat went to an independent candidate — former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo (search), architect of Zimbabwe's repressive media laws — and five were still to be determined.
Mugabe's sister, Sabrina, and two nephews won seats. Under Zimbabwean law, 120 lawmakers are elected and Mugabe has the power to appoint the other 30 himself.
Mugabe, 81, has long aimed for a two-thirds majority to enable him to amend the constitution without having to seek approval in a referendum. Voters rejected his plans in a 2000 referendum.
He hopes to set up a Senate representing traditional chiefs, retired politicians and other eminent Zimbabweans. But critics charge the autocrat wants to pack the chamber with his cronies to maintain his influence as he heads toward retirement. He also wants to be able to pick a successor without having to hold interim elections.
The MDC — which fell short of the 57 seats it won in 2000 parliamentary elections — held crisis talks but came up with no clear plan of action.
"Today the world has seen the extent to which Mugabe is determined to hold on to power without due regard to the people," MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai (search) said. "This election cannot be accepted as a reflection of Zimbabwe's will."
Tsvangirai stopped short of urging mass protests, given the government's violent suppression of previous actions.
A few angry MDC supporters kicked the cars of ruling-party supporters, but otherwise there were no signs of demonstrations. Streets bustled with people shopping and going to work, reflecting a mood of widespread weariness with politics in a nation beset with crippling unemployment and inflation.
Zimbabwe's economy has shrunk 50 percent during the past five years, and the unemployment rate is at least 70 percent. Agriculture — the country's economic base — has collapsed, and at least 70 percent of the population live in poverty.
Mugabe tried to rally support after the opposition's strong showing in 2000 with a land reform program aimed at righting racial imbalances in ownership inherited from British rule. Thousands of white-owned commercial farms were redistributed to black Zimbabweans in an often violent campaign that has crippled the economy.
Norbert Ncube, a roadside vendor of cigarettes and phone cards, said the election results did not seem credible since the number of votes recorded in certain areas seemed higher than the number of voters.
ZANU-PF, as the ruling party is known, "had a majority in parliament in the past five years, but during that time we have seen factories shut down, jobs disappear and economic hardships increase. It will be worse now that they have more than the two-thirds majority," Ncube said.
Stella Nasasa, a 31-year-old municipal worker, disagreed.
"It was free and fair. By that I mean there was no rigging and I am very happy," Nasasa said as she removed election posters in a post-campaign cleanup.
Mugabe, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, had hoped Thursday's poll would give a stamp of legitimacy to his increasingly isolated and repressive regime. But Western diplomats and independent rights groups said it was skewed by Mugabe's long history of violence.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized the elections as "heavily tilted in the government's favor."
She estimated that more than 10 percent of would-be voters were turned away from polling stations due to irregularities with voter registration rolls.
"The independent press was muzzled, freedom of assembly was constrained, food was used as a weapon to sway hungry voters and millions of Zimbabweans who have been forced by the nation's economic collapse to emigrate were disenfranchised," Rice said Friday.
The estimated 3.4 million Zimbabweans who live abroad — more than 20 percent of the population — have been barred from voting.