Militias loyal to embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe began beating and intimidating opponents this week, as Mugabe’s government prepared for a second and decisive round of voting in the presidential election. The Mugabe forces reportedly attacked opposition offices in regions that voted last month for challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, who outpolled Mugabe. The government claims Tsvangirai fell just short of the 51 percent needed to avoid a runoff. But Tsvangirai believes he got enough votes to win outright, and opposition leaders, along with most outside observers, fear that Mugabe will mobilize the army to scare off Tsvangirai’s supporters in a runoff.
Tsvangirai’s party called on world and African leaders to pressure Mugabe to step aside peacefully. “Don’t wait for dead bodies in the streets of Harare,” said Tendai Biti, general secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
The old dictator is getting desperate, said National Review Online in an editorial. His Zanu (PF) party lost its majority in parliament in the March election for the first time since 1980, when Mugabe became the first leader of independent Zimbabwe. Evidently, the utter collapse of the economy—Zimbabwe has an inflation rate of more than 10,000 percent a month and an unemployment rate of 80 percent—was too much for him. Now, the fear is that a cornered Mugabe will unleash civil war to stay in power. The only way to avert such a disaster is to give Mugabe “a negotiated exit.”
That’s shorthand for giving him a pass on years of corruption, said Justice Malala in The Wall Street Journal Europe. But Mugabe does not deserve such consideration. Why should the loser of an election have “to be begged to leave the stage with his ill-gotten gains?” To negotiate with Mugabe is to admit that “in Africa, elections mean nothing.”
There may be no other choice, said The Washington Post. It isn’t just Mugabe who must be persuaded to accept defeat, it is his entire apparatus of cronies and militias, which has dominated Zimbabwe for decades. Tsvangirai has wisely “offered assurances” to the Zanu (PF) cadres that they won’t lose their jobs or the land that Mugabe stole from white owners and gave to them. Such a deal could offer the best hope “for a peaceful political transition.”