Mugabe era's end may be near
Zimbabwe's long-time ruler may be running out of options after Saturday's vote.
Johannesburg, South Africa
It may be the beginning of the end of the Mugabe era, and Zimbabweans can taste it.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Army chiefs loyal to President Robert Mugabe now meet with opposition leaders looking for a smooth end to his ruinous – and often brutal – 28-year reign. Official results from Saturday's elections show he's lost his parliamentary majority. And the opposition has declared an outright win in the presidential race, claiming a razor-thin majority of 50.3 percent of the vote.
Even if Mr. Mugabe manages to make it to a runoff, most experts predict he would lose. The question observers now ask is not whether this is the end of his rule, but how he'll go out.
"Mugabe has run out of options," says Sikhumbuzo Ndiweni, a Zimbabwe political analyst in Johannesburg. "He wasn't able to rig these elections because, with a man from his own party, Simba Makoni, running against him, he didn't know who he could trust to do the rigging. The head of Mugabe's intelligence is Mr. Simba's man. The deputy commander in charge of police is Simba's man. [Mugabe's people] don't know who is on their side."
Tricks up his sleeve?
No one stays in power 28 years – surviving two elections and multiple power plays within his own party – without having a few tricks up his sleeve, of course, and Robert Mugabe has always been the quintessential survivor.
Yet while Mugabe still retains the personal loyalty of the commanders of the Army, the Air Force, the police, the prison service, and, most important in recent days, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), there is clearly a sense of desperation among Mugabe's supporters and possible signs that the octogenarian leader may be losing support by the day.
"There are clear signs within the ZANU-PF [Mugabe's party] that there is discontent," says Ozias Tungawara, a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Institute in Johannesburg. "The head of the Central Intelligence Organization and some of Mugabe's cabinet members had to come out and restate their loyalty to Mugabe. That's a clear sign of distrust, panic, and paranoia."
Discontent runs deep within ZANU-PF, and is most strongly felt by rank-and-file members and civil servants, who have been impoverished by the disastrous past few years of Mugabe, Mr. Tungawara adds. "The likelihood is that even people who believe in the ideology of ZANU-PF would rather see a change in leadership than another term for Robert Mugabe."
"I don't know if I can go so far as to say that Mugabe has run out of options," Tungawara adds. "There is still the tested and tried strategy of choice, which is simply beating people and creating a level of fear to prevent people from voting."
This tested strategy of beating was used as recently as a year ago against Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), after he led protest rallies without government permission. At the time, Mugabe said Mr. Tsvangirai deserved to be beaten.