LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is Weekend Edition, I'm Liane Hansen. In Zimbabwe, opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai announced today that he is withdrawing from the presidential race. He says the ongoing political violence is making a free and fair election impossible in his country. He was supposed to face long-time president Robert Mugabe in a run-off on Friday. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is across Zimbabwe's border in South Africa. Ofeibea, can you tell us what does this decision mean?
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: For the government, it means that President Robert Mugabe is more or less handed victory by default since the opposition says it is pulling out of the election. And the government has said it is going to go ahead with the poll, that this is a constitutional matter and not an opposition matter. From the opposition side, it was really damned if you do, damned if you don't. Since the first round of voting in March, the opposition, human rights organizations, Washington, Britain, all sorts have said that the political violence in Zimbabwe has been perpetrated by supporters of the president. And as you said in your introduction, Morgan Tsvangirai says in this current climate it is impossible for a free and fair election, and that's why they're pulling out.
HANSEN: And what is President Mugabe's government saying?
QUIST-ARCTON: Well, there we go, that we are going ahead. That the opposition is withdrawing from the vote because it knew it was heading for defeat. Now, Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, won the first round of the presidential election and they also won the parliamentary, so I think many people don't believe that was the case. But they say that the opposition has perpetrated the violence, and that is exactly the opposite to what everybody else is saying, and that it's Mugabe's supporters that are responsible for a campaign of terror.
HANSEN: Is there a role that the international community can play at this point?
QUIST-ARCTON: I think right now, by this move, the opposition has very firmly put the onus, not only on the international community, but the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and diplomacy by saying, look, there is no way that we could take part in what it has called a sham of an electoral process, a process that was not legitimate. And it's going to be up to you, Washington, London, here in South Africa the regional mediator and the continent. It's going to be up to you to put pressure on President Mugabe, because we have done our best, we have tried to campaign. We have tried to have a free and fair election. But the government is not allowing us to do so.
HANSEN: What is the view of Zimbabwean citizens about what is happening there now?
QUIST-ARCTON: Now, they're just suffering. They're suffering if they're from the opposition because now it's not just the election, it's not just the economy, but they're being beaten, beaten on the bottom of their feet, being beaten on their buttocks if they support the opposition by pro-Mugabe thugs who are telling them, we will show you which way to vote this time because you voted the wrong way last time. You voted for the opposition. So we have not only a political and electoral crisis in Zimbabwe, we also have an economic crisis, a country with inflation running at thousands of percent. This is a crisis.
HANSEN: And briefly, do you think the Zimbabweans will come out to vote, given these developments?
QUIST-ARCTON: I think the opposition supporters know because their candidate had said they are pulling out. But I think Robert Mugabe's supporters, the president's supporters, are going to come out and say, our man won.
HANSEN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Johannesburg's, South Africa. Thank you very, very much, Ofeibea.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.
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