Lines getting drawn in Zimbabwe

The chances for a peaceful resolution for Zimbabwe’s political crisis just got worse this morning. Morgan Tsvangirai, the presumed winner of the presidential election, told an interviewer that Robert Mugabe could face justice after his removal from office. Mugabe in return accused Tsvangirai of “treasonous” behavior and of attempting a British-led coup:

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe may be forced to face justice by a citizenry that has run out of patience with his regime’s abuses, his main rival said in an interview Thursday.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s new stance could make it even harder to dislodge Mugabe, who according to some critics is holding onto power because he fears he and his top aides will be dragged to court to face human rights abuse charges if he steps down.

Tsvangirai’s hardened position on Mugabe came the same day Zimbabwean state media reported that the ruling party accused the opposition leader of plotting with former colonial ruler Britain.

“Tsvangirai along with (British Prime Minister Gordon Brown) are seeking an illegal regime change in Zimbabwe, and on the part of Tsvangirai, this is treasonous,” The Herald newspaper quoted Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa as saying.

The opposition leader dismissed the treason charges and said accusations that he was plotting to overthrow the Mugabe regime were “outrageous.”

Battle lines are hardening in this confrontation, and Mugabe shows no sign of responding to calls for publication of the presidential vote. It has been almost three weeks since voters went to the polls, and yet the election commission has gone to court to keep the count secret, assisted by Mugabe’s friends on the bench. The widespread assumption is that Mugabe has something to hide, which is that his citizens have demanded his departure, and he will refuse to leave.

In response, Mugabe has determined that criticism of these actions constitutes treason — and his security forces have acted accordingly. They conducted arrests when the MDC called a general strike that so far has gone nowhere. Mugabe sent troops into districts that heavily supported the MDC, intimidating Zimbabweans who dared to oppose the dictator in an election.

That apparently changed Tsvangirai’s mind about Mugabe’s fate. Earlier, he had been careful to remain conciliatory, eschewing what he called a “witch hunt” against the ruler after his departure in order to maintain a peaceful transition. Now, however, seeing little help from neighboring South Africa because of Thabo Mbeki’s denial of a “crisis” in Zimbabwe, it looks like Tsvangirai has decided to get more confrontational to make the crisis a lot more obvious.