Even in defeat, he is master of his fate

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The Independent Online

Even though it appears that Robert Mugabe has been resoundingly defeated, he is determined to dictate the terms of his departure.

If his chief opponent Morgan Tsvangirai does not concede defeat, then Mr Mugabe will dig in his heels and remain ensconced in the state house. The great uncertainty is whether the people of Zimbabwe will allow him to do that this time round.

As the third day passed yesterday with no official word on the outcome of the presidential election it seemed that the horse-trading was under way to allow Mr Mugabe a dignified exit from power. After keeping mum for two days Mr Tsvangirai finally spoke last night urging the authorities to "proceed with haste" to announce the presidential result. He is the one who stands to lose if the failure to announce the electoral outcome allows Mr Mugabe to manipulate the vote.

The delay has fuelled Harare's rumour mill. One improbable theory was that Mr Mugabe would be given a passage into exile, possibly to his home in Malaysia. Knowing Mr Mugabe as I do I can safely say this is implausible. Mr Mugabe will not simply allow himself to be humiliated in such a way. Yes, he probably realises that the game is over. But he won't go in humiliation. It seems his supporters in the army are urging him to dig in his heels.

The most probable scenario, as I see it, is that Mr Mugabe will try to force the presidential election into a run-off. If that happens anything is possible. He might still rig the outcome or as one of his officials whom I spoke to yesterday suggested, he might give way for another candidate and rig the election for him. The situation remains fuzzy.

If he is to get his way Mr Tsvangirai will have to make a lot of concessions to the 84-year old-dictator. That means all talk of taking Mr Mugabe before an international criminal court and prosecuting his cronies, with whom he has destroyed Zimbabwe, will have to be dropped.

The worst-case scenario is Mr Mugabe's handpicked electoral commission declaring him the victor in the presidential contest with a 51 per cent margin, effectively nullifying Mr Tsvangirai's apparent victory. God forbid. The consequences of that are too ghastly to contemplate.

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