Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Quits Race

Citing concerns over a free and fair election, Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai bowed out of the presidential runoff race on Sunday, ending his bid against Robert Mugabe. Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa and NPR's southern Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speak with host Guy Raz about what's next for the country.

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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz in for Andrea Seabrook.

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn from his country's presidential runoff election set to be held this Friday. That decision leaves the field open to one man, Zimbabwe's long-time president Robert Mugabe. He's held power since 1980. Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, of fomenting violence against supporters of his political party, the Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr. MORGAN TSVANGIRAI (Movement for Democratic Change): We will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process.

RAZ: Now back in March, Tsvangirai won the highest number of votes in the first round of voting, but enough to win outright. Still, human rights groups critical of Robert Mugabe believe this Friday's runoff election was the best chance Zimbabwe's opposition had to oust Mugabe. Earlier, we asked Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change why the party has opted out of the runoff.

Mr. NELSON CHAMISA (Spokesman, Movement for Democratic Change): It's not possible for an election to be held in this country. So we don't want to just go in that process as a ritual. We want a process that going to create any disposition for Zimbabweans. The situation has completely changed from the way it was in March when we held the first election. Now, even if we were to win, Mugabe has declared that he will not respect the outcome of the people so why then go into that?

RAZ: Mr. Chamisa, you say it would've been a sham of an election but there are literally hundreds of monitors, election monitors in Zimbabwe now. Wouldn't this have been a fair election?

Mr. CHAMISA: Well, certainly not. It's just impossible for an election to be held. This is about war, you know, people are armed, guns are being used. The bullet has taken over. So the politics is no longer important. And we are people won't believe in the violence so this is not our game.

RAZ: So where does the opposition in Zimbabwe go now? I mean you're essentially withdrawing from your best chance of gaining political power, what do you do now?

Mr. CHAMISA: Certainly not. We are going to announce our best way forward and our vision in two days time and that is what the president indicated.

RAZ: But if there is an election happening on Friday and you're withdrawing, I mean, many people are putting their hopes in your party, in your movement to change Zimbabwe.

Mr. CHAMISA: You see, it's not possible to change this regime through a sham of an election. It's almost like, you know, playing football without a soccer ball.

RAZ: Nelson Chamisa, thanks for joining us.

Mr. CHAMISA: Thank you very much.

RAZ: That was Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for Zimbabwe's opposition party; Movement for Democratic Change speaking with us from Harare. The group's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai announced today that he's withdrawing from his country's presidential runoff.

We turn now to our own Ofeibea Quist-Arcton who's following developments in Zimbabwe from neighboring South Africa.

Ofeibea, we just heard Nelson Chamisa say that the opposition will announce their next steps in the coming days. Now that they've essentially ceded the election to President Robert Mugabe, what are their options?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: I think they're waiting to see what the international reaction is to what was, after all, a pretty difficult decision to pull out of the election. But as you heard Nelson Chamisa say and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the whole thing was a farce. And they have been saying this for a very long time. They also said, are they going to wait until Robert Mugabe steals the election, their word, for world leaders to react to the situation in Zimbabwe?

They said it was untenable. Also that a number of supporters they have lost. They're saying more than 60, 70 people dead, thousands chased from their home, thousands brutally beaten on all over their body, their hands, their feet, their buttocks are - it's too high a price to pay to run in this election. But they're now going to have to see whether they have support outside.

RAZ: Ofeibea, what kind of options does the international community have, particularly the African Union? Can they apply pressure to the current Zimbabwean government?

QUIST-ARCTON: That's exactly what Morgan Tsvangirai and the opposition is hoping for. And that's probably why they have taken this move because they feel that regional leaders in Southern Africa and more widely on the continent have not done enough to stop the violence that has after all lasted what? Two months almost since the first round of the presidential vote back in March.

So I think this is a real challenge to Africa, to the African Union, and (inaudible) to friendly western and other governments to say what is happening in Zimbabwe is wrong and must stop.

RAZ: And all of that violence coming from the ruling ZANU-PF party?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, that's what not only the opposition says, but human rights organizations, western diplomats, other diplomats, and increasingly African leaders who had initially been reluctant to criticize Robert Mugabe, or to criticize the situation in Zimbabwe. But over the past ten days or so they have saying that violence must stop. From the government side they say the opposition is responsible for the attacks.

RAZ: Ofeibea, even though Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn, will his name still remain on the ballot. And if so, in theory, could he still win?

QUIST-ARCTON: Guy, let me just read what Zimbabwe's electoral commission is saying. It says the commission is going ahead with the plans for the June 27th presidential runoff election which are now at an advanced stage. As far as the commission is concerned, the runoff is going ahead as Tsvangirai has not formally communicated this withdrawal.

So yes it looks as if his name will remain on the ballot. But we'll have to see whether in fact that he comes out the winner. What the opposition is saying is that their supporters have been so beaten and so intimidated by Robert Mugabe's thugs as they call them and his supporters and his youth militia that people have been intimidated into not voting.

So goodness knows who is going to come out and vote on Friday and whether the opposition supporters will probably not since their candidate says he's withdrawn.

RAZ: Now there has been some initial reaction to this decision by Morgan Tsvangirai from the international community. What are you hearing so far?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, South Africa, and South Africa is the appointed regional mediator. Southern African development community has been trying to mediate in the crisis in Zimbabwe for the past year or so. It's saying it hopes that the two sides will be able to sit down together and talk. At the moment, of course, the opposition is saying absolutely not. Why should it negotiate with Robert Mugabe who has tried to cheat in elections.

And who is now trying to kill people to stay in power. But I think negotiation is the only way. And there is talk and there has been for the past month or so of a national unity government. But the opposition is not going to get involved if it thinks that Robert Mugabe will head that government. It says that the official elected leader of Zimbabwe is Morgan Tsvangirai.

RAZ: Ofeibea, thanks for joining us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

RAZ: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking with us from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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