Mr. Mugabe Resists

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

FOR A DAY or two last week it looked as though Robert Mugabe might finally accept the end of his disastrous misrule of Zimbabwe. Authorities acknowledged that the opposition won a March 29 election for parliament, and there were reports that Mr. Mugabe was being urged to concede defeat in the presidential vote. Yet now, bolstered by the corrupt cadres of his ruling party and the security forces that still support him, the 84-year-old autocrat seems to be preparing to stay in power by force. While the results of the presidential vote are being withheld by the electoral commission, Mr. Mugabe's regime is suggesting it will contest a runoff election with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai -- one in which it would probably resort to the violence it used to win previous elections. On Sunday, Mr. Mugabe's thugs began invading white-owned farms, repeating a tactic the president adopted the last time he lost an election, in 2000.

Mr. Tsvangirai charged in an opinion article published yesterday in Britain's Guardian newspaper that Mr. Mugabe "is now amassing government troops; blocking court proceedings" intended to force the release of the election results; raiding opposition offices; and mobilizing the militia groups involved in past electoral violence and land seizures. The opposition leader called for "strong action" from international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and "major powers . . . such as South Africa, the US and Britain . . . to oblige [Mr. Mugabe] and his minions to retire."

Mr. Tsvangirai maintains that he won more than 50 percent of the presidential vote and that any runoff -- required when no candidate receives at least half the vote -- would be "a sham." In fact, an independent survey put the opposition leader's total at just under 50 percent, compared with about 40 percent for Mr. Mugabe. If the official results mandate a runoff, the opposition would be wrong to reject it. But Mr. Tsvangirai is right to be wary of official manipulation -- Mr. Mugabe's supporters are calling for a recount, even though results haven't yet been released -- as well of the danger that a second round would be a cover for the regime's repression.

In a positive sign, the opposition leader has offered assurances to Mr. Mugabe and his supporters: that the president will not be prosecuted, that government employees will not be fired and that land awards to Mr. Mugabe's cronies will be preserved. That could be the foundation for a peaceful political transition. What's still needed is concerted action by the governments upon which Mr. Tsvangirai has called -- starting with South Africa, which has been characteristically but inexcusably slow to use its influence in this crisis. South African President Thabo Mbeki claimed Saturday that there was "time to wait." In fact there is not: If Mr. Mugabe's violent campaign to remain in power is to be forestalled, Mr. Mbeki and other African leaders must act immediately.

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