Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper reported on Wednesday that neither President Robert Mugabe nor opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai appeared to have won a majority of the votes in Saturday’s election, forcing a run-off. Mugabe’s advisers were split on whether he should concede or force a second vote, so a decision to push for a second round of balloting was widely interpreted as a sign that Mugabe will fight to extend his 28-year rule. (The New York Times, free registration) Opposition supporters, who claimed that Tsvangirai had won, were energized as rumors swirled that Mugabe would simply relinquish power. (Bloomberg)
What the commentators said
It doesn’t look like Mugabe intends to go quietly, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial (free registration), but at least he hasn’t simply “declared himself the winner.” Getting him to take the next step—retiring to a “luxurious villa” somewhere—will require “international tact.” When he goes—whether he “departs gracefully or dies in office years from now”—Zimbabwe will need the world’s help to “end the culture of kleptocracy” that has driven its once thriving economy into the ground.
Even Mugabe can’t deny that the people have “repudiated” him this time, said The Washington Times in an editorial. It’s anybody’s guess why he “allowed this to unfold” by permitting a measure of fairness in the voting, instead of sending his “cronies” to stuff the ballot boxes as usual. But “even accounting for the usual impunity toward Mr. Mugabe's staggering misrule, it will be difficult to roll this one back.”
“As recently as Monday,” said Alex Perry in Time.com, “the idea of President Robert Mugabe voluntarily giving up power after 28 years was unthinkable for all but the sunniest of optimists.” Now everyone is daring to talk of life after Mugabe. “So deep is the socio-economic crisis over which Mugabe has presided that the 84-year-old's departure would not, in itself, fix Zimbabwe. But it would be an important first step.”