Basildon Peta: No, Tsvangirai was not right to pull out

Mugabe could not have won even a rigged election

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Of all the victims of Robert Mugabe's reign of terror I had spoken to recently, none told me that the vile dictator had brutalised them into loving him or voting for him. Mr Mugabe had, in fact, done a lot to campaign for Morgan Tsvangirai. An elderly woman whose nephew was murdered by Mr Mugabe's thugs two weeks ago told me she was determined to support the opposition in his honour.

It might sound a bit naive. But Mr Mugabe could not have won even a rigged election. The economy has worsened since the last election on 29 March which emboldened them. It proved Mr Mugabe could be beaten.

Even when opposition officials began acknowledging the growing sentiment in the party to pull out, I had never thought it would happen. "We will contest even if we are killed in the polling booths," one of the officials had told me. I thought that was right.

I am aware of the thousands of rural displaced and disenfranchised people. But that figure would have been swallowed into the MDC's strong urban support base. Polling day was going to further amplify Mr Mugabe's chicanery. I am told that, in some areas, polling booths were going to be located on properties handed to the so-called war veterans. Images of opposition supporters and even election observers being beaten at these places would have travelled the globe.

If Mr Tsvangirai's certain victory was going to be blocked by the crude tactics we have seen, Mr Mugabe would have emerged from the 27 June run-off more illegitimate. And if he had made good his threat to declare war after losing the vote, I believe that would have hastened his demise.

Mr Tsvangirai's reasons are not necessarily invalid but whatever the outcome of the run-off, I believe Mr Mugabe would have come off worse. The question now is what next? I hope it won't be another long round of Thabo Mbeki's timid mediation while Zimbabwe continues burning. The MDC must now do what it should do to rid Zimbabwe of this shameless criminal. The opposition party knows what that is, though I can't print it here.

The author is a Zimbabwean living in exile and is The Independent's southern Africa correspondent

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