Zimbabwe’s top opposition leader said yesterday he would soon return to his homeland to take part in a presidential runoff.
Morgan Tsvangirai, addressing reporters in South Africa, said his supporters would feel “betrayed” if he did not face Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in the runoff.
“I am ready, the people are ready,” he said.
“I intend to return as shortly as possible and intend to begin a victory tour,” he said.
No exact date for his return was set.
Tsvangirai had said previously he won the first round outright and that official figures showing a second round was necessary were fraudulent.
Opposition officials and independent human-rights activist have accused Mugabe of orchestrating violence against the opposition since the first round on March 29. The violence, and the need to try to rally support, have kept Tsvangirai and other top opposition figures out of Zimbabwe since the first round.
Observers inside and outside Zimbabwe have questioned whether a second round could be free and fair with the opposition unable to campaign freely because of attacks and threats. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF has already launched its runoff campaign.
Tapiwa Mudiwa, a 26-year-old supporter of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was skeptical.
“How are we going to campaign in the runoff as MDC supporters?” Mudiwa said yesterday in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. “We can’t wear MDC T-shirts. We fear we can’t even go for rallies. Cars are being burned.”
No runoff date has been set. Tsvangirai said yesterday it should be held within 21 days of the May 2 announcement of presidential results, but Zimbabwean government officials have said the electoral commission has up to a year to hold the vote.
Tsvangirai said the runoff should be held free of violence and monitored by regional peacekeepers, with unfettered access for international observers and journalists, many of whom were barred during the first round. He also said a new electoral commission should be established for the vote. But he said he would run even without what he called “the optimum conditions.”
“We are going to run,” he said at the news conference, which also was attended by other top officials of his party.
He acknowledged some in Zimbabwe may have felt he had abandoned them. There have been persistent rumors he had gone into exile, though he has maintained he was traveling only to rally international support for democracy in Zimbabwe and always planned to return.
Fisher Murambatsvina, a 28-year-old MDC activist, said it was risky for Tsvangirai to return.
Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader, has survived three assassination attempts, including a 1997 attempt by unidentified assailants to throw him from a 10th floor window. Last year, he was hospitalized after a brutal assault by police at a prayer rally, and images seen around the world of his bruised and swollen face have come to symbolize the challenge dissenters face in his homeland.
“They beat him up before and this may happen again, just to break him down,” Murambatsvina said in Harare yesterday. “It’s risky for Morgan Tsvangirai to come back. The army is in charge.
Right now, I don’t think he will be safe if he is coming to start his campaign,” he said.