HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe may be the only candidate contesting today's internationally condemned election in Zimbabwe, but opposition party officials said Thursday that militias loyal to him have threatened people across the country: Show up to vote or else.
In Chitungwiza, a working-class suburb of the capital, Harare, residents said men in police uniforms entered at least 11 homes Wednesday night and warned the occupants to vote.
In Marondera, 45 miles southeast of Harare, a gang of young Mugabe supporters — clad in the ruling party's signature green bandannas — confronted a resident at his home Thursday, warning that if he didn't vote, they would kill him.
Mugabe's victory was assured days ago when challenger Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the race. Dozens of Tsvangirai's supporters have been killed in what diplomats and human rights groups describe as a state-sponsored terror campaign against his popular opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change.
Tsvangirai once embodied his nation's soaring hopes. Boisterous and bold in his trademark cowboy hat, the longtime opposition leader would predict the defeat of Mugabe and wave a red card — like a soccer referee ejecting an unruly player.
That was three months ago, ahead of the March 29 presidential election. Now, on the eve of a runoff vote he vowed would finally end Mugabe's 28 years of unbroken power, the crowds are gone, along with the cowboy hat, the red cards and the boasts. Several of Tsvangirai's closest aides are dead, in hiding or in jail, and his party structures are all but destroyed. He is holed up in the Dutch Embassy, with no plans to appear in public on election day.
"I'll do nothing," Tsvangirai, who is boycotting the election despite outpolling Mugabe in the first round in March, said in a telephone interview from the embassy that has been his home since Sunday. "I'll come out for sunshine, nothing more."
As global support mounts for Tsvangirai, even among African leaders long uncertain about him, he is a beaten man in his own country. The hopes of his supporters — of a Zimbabwe unshackled from the misrule of Mugabe and his gang of lieutenants — have collapsed, crushed by a campaign of calculated political brutality.
Gangs of ruling party youths, the lethal enforcers of Mugabe's political comeback, celebrated their presumed victory Thursday night in the dense Mbare neighborhood of Harare. They sang and held aloft a coffin covered with the opposition's open-hand insignia and the words "Morgan Tsvangirai."
Tsvangirai said relief can come only from some unprecedented initiative from the countries that have complained about Mugabe, but never moved decisively to remove him, for nearly a decade. There is nothing more that Zimbabweans can do, he said.
Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.