Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday said he is pulling out of Friday’s presidential run-off because mounting violence and intimidation made it impossible to hold a credible election. Zimbabwe’s government said the poll would go ahead.
Tsvangirai announced his decision during a news conference in Harare after thousands of militants loyal to President Robert Mugabe blockaded the site of the opposition’s main campaign rally.
“We can’t ask the people to cast their vote … when that vote will cost their lives. We will no longer participate in this violent sham of an election,” he said. “Mugabe has declared war, and we will not be part of that war.”
He called on the United Nations, the European Union and the Southern African regional bloc to intervene.
Tsvangirai said he would put forward new proposals by Wednesday on how to take the country forward. He did not provide any details about what the proposals would include.
Zimbabwean Information Minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, said the run-off would go ahead in accordance with the constitution – and to prove Zimbabweans’ support for their long-time leader.
“The constitution does not say that if somebody drops out or decides to chicken out the run-off will not be held,” Ndlovu said.
South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki’s spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga said Tsvangirai had called Mbeki earlier yesterday to inform him he was withdrawing.
“Of course, we would like to encourage the MDC to continue to play a role in the normalisation of the political process in Zimbabwe. And we are encouraged that Mr Tsvangirai says he is not closing the door completely on negotiations,” said Ratshitanga.
Below are answers to some questions on the vote and what comes next:
Why Did Tsvangirai Pull Out?
On the face of it, Tsvangirai appeared to be in a dominant position after defeating Mugabe in the first round – but only if the vote was going to be fair.
Tsvangirai said a free and fair election was impossible in light of a campaign of violence and intimidation that he said was designed to keep Mugabe in power. The MDC said at least 86 of its supporters were killed since March.
Western countries and human rights groups back the opposition accusations over the violence although Zimbabwe’s government blames Mugabe’s foes for the bloodshed.
What Happens Now?
Zimbabwe’s government says the run-off will proceed unless Tsvangirai formally notifies electoral officials in writing of his withdrawal, but that is seen as a formality.
Mugabe would then be sworn in for another five-year term.
He could face difficulties governing because the MDC won control of the parliament in a parallel March election.
Some of the results of that election have been challenged in court, however, while Zimbabwe’s president also holds a very strong position when it comes to making decisions.
How Will the World React?
African governments are unlikely to be as accommodating to Mugabe as they were in the past after several leaders and allies broke ranks and publicly criticised his government’s handling of the run-off campaign.
The Zimbabwean leader and his senior officials could be slapped with a new round of targeted sanctions by the European Union, Britain and the United States, which have criticised his authoritarian rule and handling of the election campaign.
South African President Thabo Mbeki could face pressure to scrap his mediation of talks to end the political crisis.
The Southern African Development Community, African Union and United Nations could be forced to take tougher action to address the crisis, but what they would do is a more difficult question. Military intervention is not seen as an option while sanctions on supplies to Zimbabwe could hurt ordinary people more than Mugabe and the powerful generals around him.
Could There Still Be Negotiations?
South African media reports have said Mbeki was pushing for talks between the government and opposition on a national unity government, although such an idea did not seem to have made much progress.
Both sides would want to head such an administration.
Although South Africa said Tsvangirai had not ruled out negotiations, the bitterness between the two camps is such that they would be extremely difficult.
How Will Zimbabweans Be Affected?
Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is likely to worsen, and analysts say there will be few prospects of serious political change as long as Mugabe remains in power.
The exodus of migrants to neighbouring countries could accelerate, intensifying problems there – as the recent attacks on African migrants in South Africa made clear.
The United States and other Western nations will withhold billions of dollars in development aid that had been promised if Mugabe was swept from power and a new government embraced democracy and free markets.
Will There Be More Violence?
The MDC and trade unions could take to the streets to protest against Mugabe’s government, prompting a backlash by security forces.
What does it mean for investment?
Investors have been showing keen interest in Zimbabwe as a country that could grow very quickly if the crisis is over. If the election now leads to a continuation, or worsening, then it means such plans are likely to remain on ice.
How Long Will Mugabe Stay in Power?
Mugabe said recently that he wanted to stay on until he was sure that it would be impossible to reverse his seizures of white-owned farms to give to landless blacks – one of the policies critics blame for Zimbabwe’s collapse.