Mugabe Foe: The Runoff Must Proceed

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Alexander Joe / AFP / Getty

Morgan Tsvangirai

Zimbabwe lurches deeper into crisis as President Robert Mugabe's government menaces the opposition and its supporters in the walk-up to a second round of elections at the end of June. TIME's Megan Lindow spoke by phone to Mugabe's chief political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in an interview arranged by MTVu, a college-oriented music network from MTV. Tsvangirai — who expressed his gratitude to MTVu, saying its help "will contribute to the awareness of the crisis in Zimbabwe internationally" — spoke after being detained twice in a single day by Zimbabwean authorities. The opposition leader sounded somewhat tired after his ordeal, which ended late Thursday night, but he was nevertheless focused and determined.

TIME: You were detained twice yesterday, and Tendai Biti [secretary-general of the MDC] is now being charged with treason. What does this mean for the MDC and the runoff?
I think the facts are obvious — that the intention is to decimate our campaign, to slow down our mobilization and to frustrate the leadership. It is obvious that they realize they have lost the people, so the only thing to do is to frustrate the opposition.

What do you say to those who are calling for this runoff to be scrapped, claiming that there's no way the election can be free and fair, and urging you to form a joint government with Mugabe?
This is democracy on trial. Do people want democratic change, or do they just want accommodation of a loser? Why did we go into the election if that was the case? We could easily — before the election — have negotiated a government of national unity without having had to subject people to this violence. Now my view is that there is no basis that the runoff should be scrapped, because no one has got the legal constitutional power to scrap it. The conditions are not free and fair; in fact, the conditions are so hostile for the opposition that talk of an election under these circumstances is ridiculous. So I think that what is important is to go ahead with the runoff, see what the international observers can do to mitigate against some of the extreme cases and just get down to resolve the issue. Perhaps that will be the way of resolving the issue.

Are you disappointed by the response of the international community up until now, since it hasn't come up with a stronger response to your claims of rigging and intimidation in past elections? What are the signals you're getting from the international community, and how much of a difference will that make going into the runoff?
I don't think it's lack of effort. I think it's just that they're dealing with a man who is defying international opinion, a man who believes he doesn't have to play according to universally accepted standards of behavior. So you're really dealing with a dictatorship. So the international community, short of intervention, has done all the diplomatic pressure they can apply on the country. The Zimbabwe issue has attracted the international radar for a long time ... but, you know, [this is] Africa, where armed conflicts are prevalent. In Zimbabwe there is no armed conflict, but it is state-sponsored violence that has caused so much suffering. They treat it differently. [The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross] ... the way they treat people displaced internally is different from a war zone.

After the first round of elections in March, you told TIME that the country was entering a new phase, which was about the transfer of power and easing Mugabe out of office. Do you still see it like that? How has the post-election violence changed the game?
It still remains the focus. It is the transfer of power. It's a contest for power now; it's no longer about voting in terms of what percentages, et cetera. It still remains, How do we transfer power from a man who believes he has got the divine right to rule forever and who does not respect the will of the people, because the will of the people was expressed clearly on March 29, and it will be reaffirmed again on the 27th of June. But still the remaining question is, Will he concede? Will he accept a smooth transition? That still remains a vexing question.

You've been detained four times since returning to Zimbabwe [after six weeks of seeking support in Africa and abroad following the March poll], your supporters are being attacked and you're essentially being prevented from campaigning. How badly has the MDC been weakened since the March elections?
There's no way you can underrate the impact of this violence, especially in the rural areas. But we are really encouraged and inspired by the will of the people to finish off what they started on March 29. Were it not for the will of the people and the claim by the people that we can't look back, one could have said, "What's the point of continuing this campaign?" But for the sake of those who have died and been traumatized, I think it's the fulfillment of their wish to have this change that has kept us in the field and that will keep us fighting on.

You've said that the military is essentially in charge in Zimbabwe now. What do you have to gain, beyond showing once more that this is a regime that is determined to keep itself in power now matter what the Zimbabwean people want?
We want them to say that. We want them to act that way, because then they will have removed any residual legitimacy they had. In fact, they should act to that extreme, and then they will have exposed themselves. And I'm sure that the South African Development Community and the African Union and the whole international community will see the military junta that is in place for what it is.

Looking beyond the election: Assuming that Mugabe rigs the vote and wins or that you win but the military tries to prevent you from taking power, what do you plan to do?
Well, our plan is always to fight on. It is not a defeatist attitude, and anyone who suggests that we are going to give up because the military has refused us power, that we will just give up and forget about it — we will not do that. We will isolate the regime until they realize that what they are doing is unsustainable. So the struggle continues.

Is there any way to come away from this election without more bloodshed?
There is no reason any Zimbabwean should lose his life because of political differences. So, as far as we are concerned, we should actually realize that it is a futile exercise to lose lives because one wants to stay in power and yet pretends to be running an election.

Clearly you don't have support from the military's top brass, but what about the rank and file in the army, which seems to be increasingly against the regime?
In most of the military establishment, people voted for the MDC. [So] I think it is obvious that the rest of the military as an institution does not agree with what is taking place, but they can't do anything because of their command structure ... I have no doubt in my mind that this is just individuals, for their own selfish motives of power and money.

Will the rank and file take action in some way, at some point?
I don't know. That I can't tell, lest I am accused of inciting. I don't want to be tried for treason again.

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