Zimbabwe's opposition party announced Sunday its withdrawal from this week's presidential runoff election – essentially allowing President Robert Mugabe to claim victory – explaining that it cannot ask supporters to risk their lives to vote on its behalf.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, said he was dropping out of the runoff election on June 27 because of the violence directed at his supporters. His announcement came after thousands of Mugabe's militant loyalists prevented Tsvangirai's supporters from gathering for its major campaign rally, according to The Associated Press.
"The courageous people of Zimbabwe, of this country, and the people of the MDC have done everything humanly and democratically possible to deliver a new Zimbabwe and new government," Tsvangirai said after Sunday's closed-door MDC meeting, according to CNN.
"We in the MDC cannot ask them to cast their vote on the 27th when that vote could cost them their lives," Tsvangirai said at a news conference in the capital, Harare. "We in the MDC have resolved that we will no longer participate in this violence, illegitimate sham of an election process."
The MDC claims at least 70 of its supporters have been killed since the March 29 election, according to Agence France-Presse. Zimbabwean church groups along with international human rights groups have reported kidnappings, torture and other violence, including deaths of opposition party supporters.
The party's No. 2 leader, Tendai Biti, was arrested last week within minutes of his return from South Africa and is being held on treason charges.
In March, Tsvangirai won more votes in the presidential election, but did not gain the majority to claim the presidential seat.
Mugabe has become increasingly unpopular for crushing all critics and for Zimbabwe's nightmare economic crisis. The 84-year-old leader has held onto power for nearly three decades during which he led a once abundant and prosperous country to one where the unemployment rate is about 80 percent and inflation is more than 100,000 percent.
Zimbabwe's Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said the runoff Friday will take place to prove Zimbabweans' support for Mugabe, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since independence from Britain in 1980.
Meanwhile, Tsvangirai said he would release new proposals Wednesday on how the country should move forward.