Zimbabwe's president had been flouting the law by seizing land from white commercial farmers, a vote-getting ploy that masked his failure to carry out real land reform. Urban voters, the middle class and even many poor farmers didn't buy these tactics. Had the election been fair, diplomats and election observers say the opposition would have won.
But the opposition's strong showing will create a real two-party system, replacing a parliament where the ruling party controlled all but three seats. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai will be well placed to challenge Mr. Mugabe when presidential elections are held in 2002.
Even more important, the courage of ordinary Zimbabwean voters gives an important boost to democratic politics in southern Africa.
Western nations and international lending agencies should help solidify Zimbabwe's democratic forces by criticizing any future Mugabe lawlessness, while extending aid to civic organizations, unions and independent media. The stronger that Zimbabwean civil society is, the better the chances that the country will revive.