Zimbabwe opposition pulls out of runoff vote

Political commentators and ordinary Zimbabweans say the opposition Movement for Democratic Change's decision Sunday will save lives.

Political commentators and ordinary Zimbabweans applauded Sunday's announcemnet by opposition Movement for Democratic Change that it would pull out of Friday's election runoff, saying the decision will save many lives.

Yet, with President Robert Mugabe certain to be declared the winner by default and guaranteed another five years in office, Zimbabwe's economic situation will continue to worsen, say analysts.

Given the substantial level of violence used by both government forces and pro-government militias – including attacks on opposition protesters trying to hold a rally in the capital Sunday – pulling out of the election was a logical decision, says University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure.

"In my view it is the right decision because the so-called election had ceased to be an election at all," he says. "So the MDC is right to abandon the election. They valued lives more than power."

While Mr. Mugabe will stay in power, he will suffer a legitimacy crisis both at home and abroad, Mr. Masunungure adds. Mugabe is no longer invited to conferences within the European Union or much of the West, because of his country's poor human rights record. But now Mugabe may find his support diminishing in Africa as well.

Masunungure says the present economic crisis, which has seen inflation of more than 1 million percent – the highest in the world outside a war zone – and unemployment topping 80 percent, will mutate into a "megacrisis."

Simon Badza, another University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, agrees. "Zimbabwe will continue to degenerate into a basket case," he says. "Things will get far far worse before they get better."

The combined economic and political crisis will continue to heap pressure on Mugabe, Masunungure says, as both neighboring countries and international organizations urge Mugabe to form a government of national unity that would include members of the opposition. Mugabe is expected to lure some MDC officials in any future unity government in a bid to destabilize the opposition and to show goodwill, analysts say.

"If he refuses and continues with the violence, calls for actions by organizations such as the UN, which have the 'responsibility to protect' will increase," Masunungure says. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) could also have a big role to play in Zimbabwe's political crisis.

But Mr. Badza sees little role for the regional bodies. "Mugabe might not listen to them, saying Zimbabwe is a sovereign state which does not need the intervention of people from outside."

Abel Chimono who fled violence from the town of Chiweshe in Mashonaland Central Province also applauded MDC's decision. "Hopefuly violence will end and we will be able to return home and rebuild our houses," says Mr. Chimono, whose homestead was burned down by suspected Mugabe supporters last month.

The MDC has said that 86 of its supporters have been killed since March 29.

• Our reporter in Harare could not be named for security reasons.

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