Zimbabwe's opposition refuses to take part in presidential run-off with Mugabe

Zimbabwe's future looks increasingly perilous after the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change ruled out participating in a run-off election, saying the party had won the presidential election outright in the first round.

In an abrupt U-turn, the MDC secretary general Tendai Biti warned yesterday that any attempt by President Robert Mugabe's regime to stage a run-off election would be a ploy to illegally cling to power and would only heighten the suffering of the Zimbabwean people. Electoral authorities have still not released the results, nearly two weeks after the presidential ballot on 29 March. Mr Mugabe is widely believed to have lost to his long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai, having watched his ruling party lose control of the lower house of parliament for the first time since independence from Britain.

Mr Biti accused Mr Mugabe of in effect staging a constitutional coup d'état by remaining in office, and said that a military regime was already in place in Zimbabwe. "We won't participate in any election run-off because we won hands down in the first round," Mr Biti said in Johannesburg. "A new [MDC] government has to get on with the business of governing and not a run-off election determined by the main author of Zimbabwe's miseries. Such a run-off will, in fact, be a run-off over the rights of long-suffering Zimbabweans who have made their electoral preferences very loud and clear."

There was also no way in which the MDC could accept and participate in a run-off in Zimbabwe's highly militarised environment in which Mr Mugabe had already intensified a campaign of violence and a siege of terror on defenceless citizens, he went on.

A showdown is looming between Mr Mugabe and his neighbours at an emergency summit in Lusaka, Zambia, tomorrow. Mr Biti challenged southern African leaders to make it very clear to Mr Mugabe that his time is up and that he should allow the victors from the presidential elections to take over. Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have called the summit to discuss Zimbabwe and try to stop it degenerating into Kenya-style chaos. But unless they show real determination, it is unlikely that they will be able to put off an impending disaster in Zimbabwe.

President Mugabe has confirmed he will attend the summit. Mr Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, will also be in attendance although he has already been doing the rounds to meet regional leaders and lobby them. Mr Biti denied that his boss had fled Zimbabwe. "Mugabe has put our country on autopilot to self destruction," he said. "He must now be stopped. SADC leaders must tell him clearly without any equivocation that this is now the end of the end game for him."

Sources say Mr Mugabe is not prepared to give up power and had considered nullifying the parliamentary results. Apparently, they said, Mr Mugabe genuinely believes that the MDC stole the parliamentary vote by "bribing" electoral officials to inflate opposition numbers. His senior military commanders, in particular Perence Shiri and Constantine Chiwenga, were urging him to stay on, the sources said.

Mr Biti dismissed the accusations that the MDC had rigged the poll as ludicrous. Those claiming that would excel "if they considered writing satirical novels or becoming full-time comedians", said a visibly angry Mr Biti, who noted that allies of Mr Mugabe were in charge of the entire electoral process. He warned that the MDC would not accept any doctored figures.

The Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, said the ruling Zanu-PF would demand recounts or reruns in at least 21 parliamentary seats they had lost.

Analysts are unanimous that the MDC's refusal to participate in a run-off significantly raises the stakes in Zimbabwe and could plunge the country into the abyss unless regional leaders reach an amicable settlement.

The MDC had earlier said it would participate in an election run-off. Mr Biti said the MDC had won an outright majority by a figure higher than the 50.3 percent it earlier claimed, after finding other ballots which had not been accounted for. But independent monitoring agencies say Mr Tsvangirai won by a majority not big enough to avoid a run-off.

The future now looks bleak, given the increasingly belligerent stand of the MDC and Zanu-PF, with both sides having ruled out a government of national unity yesterday.

If electoral authorities order a run-off, as they are most likely to do, and the MDC boycotts it, widespread violence looks inevitable. Even if the MDC can be persuaded to participate, information from Zimbabwe indicates Mr Mugabe is preparing for war to win any second round by violence. In the past few days, he has sent out his supporters to invade remaining white-owned farms, and opposition supporters have been intimidated.

Senior army officers have been reportedly deployed in specific areas around the country to lead a campaign of violence against opposition supporters.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all