Mugabe running the dictator's playbook

Robert Mugabe continues to work right out of the dictator’s playbook in the spiraling crisis in Zimbabwe. Hold an election? Check. Lose the election? Hide the results — done. Opposition demonstrates? Ban political speech:

Police banned all political rallies Friday as Zimbabwe’s crisis deepened nearly two weeks after a presidential election that produced no official winner.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the vote outright and has been traveling the region to try to persuade neighboring leaders to pressure President Robert Mugabe to step down. Southern Africa’s leaders are to meet in Zambia on Saturday to discuss the crisis.

“All political parties are warned against creating mayhem as we know there are many people who wish Zimbabwe to lose its peace,” Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Faustino Mazango said. “Surely those who want to provoke a breach of peace, whoever they are and whatever office they hold, will be dealt with severely.”

It would be shocking if it weren’t so depressingly predictable. Mugabe finds himself in a jam of his own making after the MDC managed to document the raw vote totals from each of the precincts. He can’t make up numbers that don’t match the photos of the tallies the MDC has, and so he can only sit on the results and declare an emergency to void the election.

Unfortunately, the Zimbabweans who voted Mugabe out of office haven’t cooperated through submission to his will. The MDC refuses to participate in the runoff election that Mugabe offered as a compromise, insisting that Morgan Tsvangirai won the election outright two weeks ago. Obviously that is the truth, because Mugabe would have released the results any time over the last twelve days if the real results indicated a run-off election. Without the MDC participating in a runoff, Mugabe’s re-election will have zero credibility — and it’s doubtful anyone would participate anyway, a further humiliation.

The SADC has the ball in its court now. It has spoken with both Mugabe and Tsvangirai about resolving the impasse, but so far no accord has been reached. The only appropriate outcome is for Mugabe to release the honest vote totals and to let the voice of Zimbabwe be heard. The longer Mugabe stalls, the more likely Zimbabweans will find other means to enforce their will. The SADC should really look for a golden parachute to get Mugabe out of Zimbabwe altogether before full-scale civil war breaks out.