TOPICS > Politics

Zimbabwe Vote Crisis Grows After Tsvangirai Drops Out

June 23, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
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After a disputed election and claims of politically fueled violence, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai dropped out of a run-off vote against President Robert Mugabe. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad examines the issue.
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RAY SUAREZ: Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision to pull out of this week’s presidential runoff came nearly three months after the first round of balloting.

Tsvangirai won more votes in March than President Robert Mugabe did, but did not get a majority in the official count. That led to the runoff.

Tsvangirai has called the entire process a sham, and his supporters have been brutalized by Mugabe’s regime. Scores have been killed, hundreds injured, and thousands displaced by spiraling violence.

Tsvangirai himself has been targeted for assassination, arrested multiple times, and left the country at one point.

Concern for his own safety drove Tsvangirai to seek refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

In an interview with National Public Radio broadcast this morning before he went to the Dutch embassy, the opposition leader said Mugabe had no intention of relinquishing power.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI, Leader, Movement for Democratic Change: Well, there’s nothing that is going to change the outcome. What he wants is to go through a process of a so-called participation and then declare himself the winner.

He has already declared that he will not accept the opposition victory. He is not going to hand over power and that he is going to go to war if he lost. So under those circumstances, Mugabe is determined that he wants to stay in power for ever and ever.

Mugabe increasingly isolated

Robert Mugabe
President of Zimbabwe
They say their supporters are being beaten by our soldiers. He says there's violence so that they can say the elections were not free and fair, which is a damned lie.

RAY SUAREZ: Mugabe was quoted recently saying, "We are not going to give up our country for a mere X on a ballot. How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?"

At a Saturday rally in western Zimbabwe, the 84-year-old Mugabe reiterated his threat, but then said the opposition was making false claims about the violent campaign.

ROBERT MUGABE, President, Zimbabwe (through translator): They say their supporters are being beaten by our soldiers. He says there's violence so that they can say the elections were not free and fair, which is a damned lie.

RAY SUAREZ: Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years. Once revered as a hero of the liberation from colonial rule, his regime has presided over the economic destruction of the country.

His recent actions have even forced old allies to condemn him. African nations are looking for a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis.

In a statement today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blasted the regime, saying, "It is abundantly clear that Mugabe is determined to thwart the will of the people of Zimbabwe. The Mugabe regime cannot be considered legitimate in the absence of a runoff. In forsaking the most basic tenet of governance -- the protection of its people -- the government of Zimbabwe must be held accountable by the international community."

RAY SUAREZ: There are efforts underway to do just that at the U.N. Security Council. The secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, spoke to reporters this afternoon.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General: The campaign of threat and intimidation that we have seen in Zimbabwe goes against the very spirit of democracy. I would strongly discourage the authorities from going ahead with the runoff on Friday; it will only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible.

RAY SUAREZ: Ban also said Tsvangirai's decision to withdraw from the runoff was understandable given the ongoing violence aimed at him and his movement.

Security Council discusses problem

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to United Nations
But there are some who would like to water it down, the statement not to go after who is responsible, not to establish that, and not to criticize President Mugabe and his government.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on Zimbabwe, we turn to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This month, the U.S. holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council.

And, Mr. Ambassador, in your role as president, you presided over a meeting discussing Zimbabwe. Can you tell us what went on during the deliberations?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Well, we talked about the situation in Zimbabwe, and there is broad agreement in the council that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe.  There is a political crisis, and there is a humanitarian crisis.

But there is this agreement as to how to judge as to who's responsible for the current situation. A very substantial majority believes that, both on the political track and on the humanitarian track, it is the government that is responsible, that circumstances need to be created for a free and fair election to be held, and that the government, which as you said in your set-up piece, has wrecked the economy, must stop interfering with the humanitarian assistance to the people and to have a strong resolution, a presidential statement on the issue.

But there are some who would like to water it down, the statement not to go after who is responsible, not to establish that, and not to criticize President Mugabe and his government.

RAY SUAREZ: Staying with that draft statement for a moment, I've seen a copy. It also says that, absent a runoff, what you should be looking at is the results of the March balloting, which made Morgan Tsvangirai the winner, or at least the first-place finisher. That goes a lot further than any international statement I've seen. Is that likely to survive the editing process?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, we will see. There are some who are arguing that there shouldn't be a specific reference to the presidential elections, that maybe there should be a reference to the validity of the parliamentary elections.

I think it's very important to recognize that, without a free and fair runoff election, that the government loses its legitimacy and that there are several options, one of which is, how do you create circumstances in which a free and fair election can be held? Can you have free and fair elections with the current government in power?

Or there are some other options of, do you go based on the outcome of the previous election, some sort of a transitional arrangement? Those are the questions that confronts Zimbabwe and those who are interested, with regard to the future of the country.

Political cause for human crisis

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to United Nations
That is what the U.N. can do, establish accountability, and then also call on the government to cease and desist, and, if does not, then to consider further measures.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, earlier, you referred to twin crises, a political and humanitarian crisis. What tools do the U.N. Security Council have at its disposal to deal with a country in a situation like Zimbabwe's?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, let me say a little more on the humanitarian situation, because what you have there is that it is not a natural disaster that's responsible for the humanitarian crisis. That was the case in regard to Burma.

Here, what you have is a government that has destroyed the economy, bringing about a situation which more than a million people, including 500,000 children, need international assistance, NGO assistance to meet their needs.

And the government is now saying, and you should not provide that assistance, using food as a weapon, as a political weapon. And it is sort of rather a cyclone, it is Cyclone Mugabe, the government that is bringing this about.

This is unacceptable. This is a crime of commission rather than omission. And therefore, we have to send a strong message of holding the government and President Mugabe responsible.

That is what the U.N. can do, establish accountability, and then also call on the government to cease and desist, and, if does not, then to consider further measures.

RAY SUAREZ: But what does it mean to hold Robert Mugabe accountable if the crisis in humanitarian terms is ongoing, as you note, and he himself has said he won't leave office, won't respect the results of elections, and only God can remove him from office?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, of course, the Security Council has to decide the range of options are from sanctions on -- with regard to specific persons, such as President Mugabe -- to other measures broadly, in terms of support for the people and the process for democracy and elections in Zimbabwe.

This is a clearly, what the situation is, it's not only humanitarian and political in Zimbabwe; it's a threat to regional peace and stability. And it is the responsibility of the Security Council of the United Nations to deal with these situations and to decide on appropriate steps.

Where we are right now is to recognize the problem, to make demands on Zimbabwe, and then, depending on the response, we will have to consider other measures and options would have to be developed.

Options for the Security Council

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to United Nations
So we will work on it. This is very important what's happening there on many fronts, as I said before. So I'm hopeful that we'll get something either in the form of PRST today or a resolution.

RAY SUAREZ: Are sanctions a possibility? Can they be put in a place in a way that doesn't further hurt the poor, who've already suffered the brunt of Zimbabwe's ongoing crisis?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, you're right. Of course, we don't want to do anything that will hurt the poor people who are the victims of Mugabe, of his mismanagement, of his political oppression, but rather to have targeted steps that focuses on the regime.

As I said, there is a clear issue of, can you have fair elections, credible elections, with the current set-up? Or will there have to be a change in the current set-up to allow for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe?

RAY SUAREZ: This month, you're wearing two hats, as we noted earlier, both president of the council and the representative of the permanent member, the United States. Has the United States gone farther than the Security Council is willing to at this moment in denouncing Mugabe and calling for action in that part of the world?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: We have. The council has not expressed itself yet. I'm hoping that we can get that this evening in a presidential statement. We will see.

And if one or two countries object to moving forward because of the requirement of unanimity, we have said that we have to look at a resolution then, which doesn't require unanimity, but requires nine affirmative votes with no opposition from a permanent member.

So we will work on it. This is very important what's happening there on many fronts, as I said before. So I'm hopeful that we'll get something either in the form of PRST today or a resolution.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, thanks for joining us.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, it's good to be with you again.