Zimbabwe Opposition Candidate Drops Out

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of Zimbabwe's violence-wracked presidential runoff, declaring that the election was no longer credible and the loss of life among his supporters was simply too high. Video by AP
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 23, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe, June 22 -- Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew Sunday from Zimbabwe's presidential runoff election under the might of a vicious campaign of political violence by President Robert Mugabe, saying that "we cannot stand there and watch people being killed for the sake of power."

Tsvangirai's decision ends an electrifying challenge to Mugabe, who over 28 years has led his once-bountiful country into economic ruin, then unleashed an onslaught of state-sponsored torture, beatings and killings after he lost the first round of voting in March. Election officials deemed a runoff necessary because neither candidate got a majority of votes, and they set the date for Friday.

Since the first round of voting, gangs of ruling-party youths and other supporters have rampaged through rural Zimbabwe and increasingly moved into major cities, attacking anyone showing signs of opposition support, even a T-shirt or bandanna bearing the party colors, red and black.

The opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, says 86 supporters have been killed in the violence, with more than 10,000 injured and 200,000 forced to flee their homes, an account that roughly matches that given by human rights workers, who have called the onslaught the most severe political violence in two decades.

"Zimbabweans have also shown how brave and resilient they can be. They have withstood years of brutality, impoverishment and intimidation. They are dedicated to a new democratic Zimbabwe," Tsvangirai said at a news conference at his home in Harare, the capital. "But we in the MDC cannot ask them to cast their vote on June 27 when that vote could cost them their lives."

The violence has drawn widespread condemnation from the United States, Europe and many African countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week that Mugabe's violent crackdown had dashed hopes that the runoff would "be allowed to proceed in a free and fair manner."

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, one of several African leaders to speak out after Mugabe threatened last week to continue ruling even if he lost the runoff, said that "Zimbabwe remains an eyesore on the African continent."

But no leader, Zimbabwean or otherwise, has yet shown the ability to drive out the increasingly lawless Mugabe government despite the deep privation of Zimbabweans, who are enduring chronic food shortages -- about a third of the population is dependent on food aid -- and levels of inflation rarely seen in a country not at war.

Party officials said they knew of no active diplomatic efforts to remove Mugabe, who at 84 is among the last of a fading generation of African autocrats.

The posting of individual results at Zimbabwe's more than 9,000 polling stations was an electoral reform sought by the opposition, and the handwritten sheets gave the first clear evidence of Mugabe's loss in March. But since then, the results have provided

a neighborhood-by-neighborhood map of opposition support, and the areas that supported Tsvangirai have drawn most of the attacks.

Zimbabwean election officials said they will hold the vote Friday even though Tsvangirai is no longer participating. Mugabe's government officials said they, too, planned to continue preparations for the vote.

"We are busy campaigning. Tsvangirai is known to make these statements," said Bright Mutonga, the deputy information minister. "He must write to confirm that he is pulling out; otherwise it's a bluff."

Tsvangirai, who has been beaten and arrested several times since becoming opposition leader in 1999, left Zimbabwe shortly after the first round of voting because of fears about his safety. He returned in late May, vowing to defeat Mugabe and saying that "there is no such thing as a risk-free environment in this country."

"I return home to Zimbabwe with a sad heart," Tsvangirai said at the time. "Even since my return a few hours ago, I have met and listened to stories of innocent people targeted by a regime desperate to cling to power."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company