Zimbabwe Prepares for Second Round of Elections

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Voters in Zimbabwe are expected to head to the polls next week for a runoff election between Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai won the initial election in March, but not by a wide enough margin. Mugabe is now accused of using campaign violence against Tsvangirai and his supporters. NPR's Ofeibea Quist Arcton offers an update.


Now, let's move onto Zimbabwe, where a presidential runoff is scheduled for next week between longtime leader Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe has come under increasing criticism. He is accused of a campaign of violence against the opposition in an attempt to win the runoff. Tsvangirai won the initial election in March, but not by a wide enough margin to prevent a runoff, and the violence has escalated to the point that many question whether the June 27th elections will even take place.

So joining us to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe is NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's in Johannesburg, South Africa. Welcome back to the program.


CORLEY: Well, yesterday President Mugabe accused Morgan Tsvangirai and others in his Movement for Democrat Change of condoning arson and violence across the country, and Tsvangirai's party threw the same accusations at the government. So do we have any idea, really, is there a sense of who is behind the violence?

QUIST-ARCTON: I think everybody but President Robert Mugabe's government says it is his supporters, his militants and his security forces that are behind the violence responsible for this campaign of violence, some have called it. Campaign of terror, others have called it. And that it is, as you have said in your introduction, the fact that President Mugabe's people want him to hang onto power after being in power for 28 years since independence from Britain in 1980, that they have unleashed this campaign of terror against the opposition.

When I say it's not just the opposition saying, it's the U.S. ambassador in Harare, James McGee. It's human rights organizations. It's churches. And now more and more, it's African leaders who are weighing in, as well as, of course, Washington. We have, for example, Condoleezza Rice there, Secretary of State, saying she thinks it's time for African leaders to say to President Mugabe that the people of Zimbabwe, and I quote, "deserve a free and fair election, that you cannot intimidate opponents, you cannot put opponents in jail, you cannot threaten them with charges of treason and be respected in the international community."

And I think it is a strong message and I hope it will be delivered. So now there is a lot of pressure on the Mugabe government, but he and his people are saying it's the opposition responsible for the violence.

CORLEY: Well, it's interesting because last weekend, President Mugabe made a rather ominous statement concerning the election and here's what he had to say.

President ROBERT MUGABE (Zimbabwe): Anyone who seeks to undermine our land reform, seeks our challenge, and we challenge it. We are prepared to fight for our country, to go to war for it.

CORLEY: And it's those kinds of statements, right, that make people think that Mugabe isn't really ready to change much as far as leadership of the country, correct?

QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, after being on the back foot, briefly, after these elections in March, which he lost, and this is a first time for President Robert Mugabe. He has not lost an electoral race like this before. As you said, the opposition won, and it looked as if there might be a change, and people were hopeful that there might be a change in Zimbabwe.

But very quickly it seems the hardliners in his party, as well as those in the security forces, said, uh-ah. We are not giving up, and since then we have had, as you said, escalating violence, violence which is still spreading now, just one week and a day before the elections.

So whether these elections are going to happen is another question. Even the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is saying that in the current conditions, with this violence going on, if it prevails, the legitimacy of any election outcome would be in question.

CORLEY: Now South African President Thabo Mbeki met with President Mugabe trying to calm the situation. The South African government, though, has really been reluctant to publicly criticize its neighbor to the North. Why now?

QUIST-ARCTON: No, that doesn't happen. There's very little criticism from one African leader to the next. Now President Mbeki, as you said, is the duly appointed regional mediator for the Southern African Development Community. He has come under criticism for using quiet diplomacy. A sort of softly, softly approach, in his dealings with Zimbabwe.

Yesterday, he met the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, as well as President Robert Mugabe. The talk is of a national unity government, maybe, that will help ease the problems. But now you're getting more and more leaders in the region. In Southern Africa, neighbors of Zimbabwe, say, look, enough is an enough. This violence must stop. There's no way a free and fair vote can be held if the violence continues.

So there's a lot of pressure on Zimbabwe's neighbors and African leaders to - if not call the shots, at least put pressure on Mugabe's government.

CORLEY: So how's the media there been covering this election?

QUIST-ARCTON: In Zimbabwe or in South Africa?

CORLEY: In Zimbabwe, and - it depends...

QUIST-ARCTON: And in South Africa, yeah, you're right. It's a double-pronged question. In Zimbabwe, the state media has been very strong. Now I forgot to even tell you that the second-in-command of the opposition has been arrested and is facing treason charges for allegedly authoring this so-called document that was talking about regime change. And this is what President Mugabe accuses Washington and London and other hostile Western governments of.

So the state-controlled government is pro-government. The opposition government - the opposition media is having a tough time. And now we're being told that even the state-controlled government is not going to air opposition campaign - you know, campaign materials.

CORLEY: Ofeibea, let me just interrupt you real quickly, because you said that June 27th really is just in question now. Correct?

QUIST-ARCTON: June - just repeat that.

CORLEY: Whether or not the elections will actually go forward, really in question now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Very much so. And we will not know, I think, until either Robert Mugabe says the situation is untenable because he blames the opposition for the violence so we're scrapping the elections, or whether it's going to come from the outside.

CORLEY: All right.

QUIST-ARCTON: That's a big, big question.

CORLEY: All right. Well, thank you so much. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joined us from Johannesburg, South Africa. Thank you so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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