Polls Open for Disputed Election in Zimbabwe Polls open in Zimbabwe on Friday for the disputed one-man presidential runoff. Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the race citing concerns for his supporters' lives. That leaves President Robert Mugabe as the only candidate on the ballot. International leaders have condemned the election.
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Polls Open for Disputed Election in Zimbabwe

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Polls Open for Disputed Election in Zimbabwe

Polls Open for Disputed Election in Zimbabwe

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is away. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In Zimbabwe, polls opened this morning for a presidential runoff where only one candidate is actually running. President Robert Mugabe is therefore poised to remain as president. The opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai dropped out after scores of his supporters were killed and others brutalized.

Leaders from around the world have condemned the vote as a sham. They've called on the president to postpone the election, which Mugabe has refused to do. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is monitoring the situation from neighboring South Africa and joins us to talk about it now, live from there. Ofeibea, what can you tell us about the turnout at polling stations in Zimbabwe? I guess people are wondering if opposition supporters are even trying to vote.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Well, Renee, what we're being told is that the initial signs of slow voting, that some polling stations that had already opened, but they hadn't received any voters. But I have to add to that though that the opposition has been saying for the last 24 hours or so that people are going to be forced to vote for President Robert Mugabe.

They say that Mugabe's thugs have been holding what are called pongue(ph) in Zimbabwe. That's a sort of powwow, but it's a powwow where there's no consultation and no chatting. You're being ordered to vote for Robert Mugabe. So we'll have to see. Because we're also being told that if people don't have that purple little finger showing that they voted, then they will know that they are opposition supporters, which means trouble.

MONTAGNE: Now, the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is still at the Dutch embassy in the capital Harare. He took refuge there earlier this week. Has he given any indication of his plans?

QUIST-ARCTON: He hasn't yet. What he has done is talked to his supporters. He said whatever might happen, these results will not be recognized by the world. He says it's an illegitimate sham election. But he said to his supporters no matter what you are forced to do, we know what is in your heart. Don't risk your life. The people's victory may be delayed, but it won't be denied.

He is counting on the support of the region, southern Africa, of the African Union, which is about to meet in a summit next weekend, and the international community. I think he feels he's done what he could do that he was prepared to go to the vote, but because of the violence - state-sponsored violence, the opposition says - the government says attacks instigated by the opposition. Because of this brutality, there was no way that he could stand. There was no way that this could be a fair and free election, but we don't know exactly what his plans will be.

MONTAGNE: You know, we've been talking so much about this election and the disputes and the violence there. Just look back for a moment to President Mugabe - 28 years in power since Zimbabwe was actually declared independent. Hailed as a hero at the beginning, a leader committed to development and reconciliation. What happened?

QUIST-ARCTON: Politics. Politics, and many say greed. Many say also the fact that when Robert Mugabe called a referendum - and that really was to entrench his powers in 1999, 2000 - he lost. And that was a huge shock for this man, as you say, who was the head of the liberation war, the political head of Zimbabwe's war against white minority rule.

When he came in, he talked about reconciliation, because, of course, there's a white minority in Zimbabwe. He talked about pushing this country forward, and really, Zimbabwe was seen as a southern African miracle. It was also the bread basket of the region. That has completely changed. And it seems that when Mugabe suddenly realized that maybe not all the people are supporting him, he went a different way. He took on policies, especially this invasion of productive white-owned farms, and that was the beginning of the downfall of Zimbabwe.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, at this point in time, what realistically can the world do?

QUIST-ARCTON: I think that is the tough question, because before, the world and the opposition was saying let's negotiate. But if these elections go through, we can't do that. Mugabe was saying I'm prepared to talk to the opposition, but after the ballot. So there's talk of sanctions. There's talk of all sorts of things. I think everybody's going to have to knock their heads together and decide what the future of Zimbabwe will be. Mugabe says he wants no interference.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joined us from Johannesburg, where she is observing the election today in Zimbabwe.

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