updated 11/27/2005 1:52:25 PM ET 2005-11-27T18:52:25

Zimbabwe’s ruling party swept an overwhelming majority of seats in a newly created Senate, according to partial results announced Sunday from an election marked by record-low turnout and a deeply divided opposition.

Partial results from Saturday’s vote gave President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front at least 47 out of 66 seats in the Senate.

The election campaign left the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change bitterly and perhaps irrevocably split, threatening to destroy the only group to have seriously challenged Mugabe’s increasingly autocratic 25-year rule.

Senior members of the opposition party rejected leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s calls for an election boycott and fielded 26 candidates. Tsvangirai had argued that participation would lend credibility to a ballot that was certain to be flawed.

Partial results indicated many voters stayed home and Tsvangirai thanked supporters for “heeding our call for the boycott of this meaningless election.”

“We have been vindicated,” he said.

Mugabe’s supporters ran unopposed for 35 of the Senate’s 66 seats. Results from 17 of the 31 contested races had Mugabe’s party winning 12 and Tsvangirai’s party five.

The ruling party won all three seats in traditionally unfriendly Harare, suggesting that many opposition voters in the capital heeded Tsvangirai’s boycott call. Even in some ruling party strongholds, preliminary returns showed less than 28 percent of voters cast ballots.

“Turnout was very low indeed. It is a vote of no confidence in the entire process,” said Reginald Matchaba-Hove, head of the independent network that monitors Zimbabwean elections.

Nearly 60 percent of registered voters participated in parliamentary elections last March. Some 3.2 million of Zimbabwe’s 12 million people are registered to vote.

State radio reported none of the political violence or intimidation that have characterized elections in Zimbabwe since 2000.

Mugabe abolished the Senate in 1990 but decided to recreate it earlier this year in what critics said was an attempt to increase his power by packing Parliament with allies.

Many have questioned the estimated annual $6 million cost for the second chamber at a time of acute shortages of food, gasoline and other essentials during the country’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain. The often-violent seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms, coupled with erratic rains, has crippled Zimbabwe’s agricultural economy.

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