VOTERS have said the decision by the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to withdraw from today’s presidential run-off against President Robert Mugabe was prudent given the escalating political violence targeted at opposition members and the continued state frustration of his campaign.
In a snap survey this week, the electorate sympathised with Tsvangirai’s move to pull out of the contentious poll.
Tsvangirai wrote to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson George Chiweshe on Tuesday notifying him of his decision to withdraw from the race.
He attributed the decision to unabated politically-motivated violence and intimidation of the electorate in both urban and rural areas.
Despite this development, the government said the run-off would go ahead today in accordance with the country’s electoral laws.
According to the MDC, over 85 of its supporters were killed in the countdown to the run-off, 10 000 injured and 200 000 internally displaced.
Farai Ngwenya, a Harare salesperson, said he was behind Tsvangirai’s decision because the situation on the ground was not suitable for a free and fair election.
“I am 100% in support of Tsvangirai,” Ngwenya said.
“There was no way we could go on with the elections without polling agents. If elections are to be held, international observers from all over the world should come in as well as peace-keepers to protect people so that they vote in a free environment without any fear.”
An MDC supporter who asked for anonymity said Tsvangirai was denied the space to campaign and his decision to withdraw from the elections was wise, as he would have starred an inevitable defeat.
“This was a very good move in the sense that he was not given a chance to campaign,” she said.
“Every day our brothers and sisters (in the MDC) are being beaten up and killed and it’s not worth it anymore.”
An Epworth resident said Tsvangirai made the decision to save the lives of his supporters who were at the mercy of Zanu PF militia and war veterans backing Mugabe’s continued stay in power.
“Let us just endorse Mugabe, at least we can live at peace,” the resident said.”Mugabe said only God can remove him from power, so let us just let him rule and wait for God to intervene.”
Political scientists agreed with those interviewed that Tsvangirai had made a wise decision under the current turbulent political environment.
John Makumbe, University of Zimbabwe (UZ) political science lecturer and Mugabe critic, said by withdrawing from the run-off, Tsvangirai had pulled the rug of legitimacy from under the 84-year-old leader’s feet.
“It is not worth it to pursue the run-off while people are being killed and beaten and houses destroyed,” Makumbe said.
“This is no longer an election, it’s war! Zanu PF has been using state coercive apparatus to win that war.”
He said the MDC was not given the chance to campaign.
“If Zanu PF wants a war let them fight the war alone. The MDC does not need to go to war,” Makumbe added.
On the way forward for Tsvangirai, Makumbe suggested: “The MDC should tell people not to go and vote. People should abstain. The MDC should also urge Sadc, the United Nations and the African Union to pass a strong resolution on Zimbabwe.”
Another UZ political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said Tsvangirai made the right choice under harsh circumstances.
“That was the most prudent thing to do as there was no other option, all other options were blocked,” Masunungure said.
“The way forward for Tsvangirai was to withdraw from the electoral playfield that had been fundamentally altered to a warfare from a political context.”
He said his move may not have been timely from a legal view, but politically it was a wise move.
“Now there should be a search for a viable political settlement that will be more similar to the Lancaster House settlement where a new legal framework would be agreed on as well as power-sharing in a transitional sense thus leading ultimately to an election,” Masunungure suggested.
“The Sadc-facilitated dialogue has deficiencies and needs to be supplemented by something else.”
Masunungure said even though Mugabe would go ahead with the run-off, it would be meaningless because a poll must offer a choice.
“An election has to be meaningful. One cannot get into a race alone, there have to be two or three more people. There has to be a choice. If they go on, it will be an election without a choice,” he said.
Political commentator Sibangelizwe Ndlovu said it was unfair to judge Tsvangirai’s move as positive or negative without looking at the election process in context.
“I think it’s unfair to judge Tsvangirai’s move as positive or not… we need to look at the whole thing in the context of what we know,” Ndlovu said.
“That being said, it was probably pointless too to expect him to participate; his major blunder was losing the momentum after March 29.”
Tsvangirai said state-sponsored violence closed off his access to rural areas and that over 2 000 MDC polling agents were in “illegal” detention. He said it was impossible for the party to contest an election without agents.
He bemoaned his continued arrest and detention while on his campaign trail.
Tsvangirai appealed to Sadc, the AU and UN to intervene.
However, some of the electorate said Tsvangirai had let them down by pulling out of the election.
“Tsvangirai’s last minute withdrawal is quite devastating,” said a worker in the central business district who identified himself only as Peter.
“I was confident he was still going to win despite the many Zanu PF T-shirts we were seeing and the violence. He has disappointed me so much.”
A nurse who preferred to be identified as Shupikai said Tsvangirai’s withdrawal from the race was a betrayal of the struggle to oust Mugabe.
“I feel like Tsvangirai has betrayed the struggle,” Shupikai said.
“How can he just decide to withdraw? What of all those they say died for the party, those displaced and beaten? Did they have to go through that just for a withdrawal? I think it is not fair and he should have participated in the election.”
By Wongai Zhangazha