The Zimbabwe election commission, controlled by Robert Mugabe, may announce today that Mugabe lost the presidential election held almost five weeks ago. Sources inside the government say that Morgan Tsvangirai bested Mugabe, but not by enough for an outright victory. They will claim that a close finish requires a run-off election, but Tsvangirai has rejected a run-off — and given Mugabe’s actions in the intervening weeks, it’s not hard to understand why:

Zimbabweans are bracing for a bloody second round of elections after government sources yesterday said a recount of the presidential vote held a month ago showed that President Robert Mugabe lost to Morgan Tsvangirai but that neither won an outright majority.

Senior government sources told Reuters that Tsvangirai took 47% of the vote to 43% for Mugabe, a remarkable admission that the man who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years was beaten.

If the figures are confirmed by the state-run election commission, a run-off election is likely before the end of May. But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change claims Tsvangirai won an outright majority, based on the returns posted at each polling station, and said it would not participate in a second round of voting.

Tsvangirai’s spokesman, George Sibotshiwe, accused the government of fixing the results: “As a people we voted and expressed ourselves democratically through the ballot and somebody is now trying to subvert our will. Mugabe needs to concede defeat and step down.”

But Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party is far from conceding defeat, despite also losing control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980.

The MDC has claimed documentary evidence — photographs of polling reports on election day — that show Tsvangirai with 50.3% of the presidential election vote. The 47%-44% lead to which Mugabe appears ready to admit seems designed to fit into margins of error in order to give Mugabe some benefit of the doubt. Mugabe may have decided that conceding that he didn’t beat Tsvangirai in the first round would force the MDC leader to accept a run-off, where Mugabe can play games to prevail against his opponent.

Those games began shortly after the first election at the end of March. Mugabe’s goons have conducted a campaign of terror in regions that voted heavily for the MDC. “War veterans” have occupied the few independent farms left, chasing residents off their property and sending a clear message of intimidation. No Zimbabwean will mistake that message, which is Vote Mugabe Or Else.

Tsvangirai doesn’t want to leave the decision to Mugabe and his henchmen, and he doesn’t want to risk another stolen election. The MDC needs to publish its documentary evidence immediately — but even that may not do much good. Given the craven and supine response from the UN, the SADC, and especially Mugabe toady Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, the proof of his victory will result in little more than a photo op and another statement of Mugabe support from a region that clearly has little interest in the well-being of Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans.