STARING defeat in the face after weekend polls, President Robert Mugabe has gone on the offensive, directing the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to delay the result in order to manage a crisis that could result in his defeat.
Sources said ZECâ€™s delay is part of governmentâ€™s crisis management plan following clear indications that Mugabe had lost the election to Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
There is a move in government to fight the defeat. Police last night sealed off a local guest lodge as the government intensified its crackdown on foreign media.
The police picked up a journalist, Barry Bearak, from the New York Times.
By late last night they were still at the lodge blocking anyone from entering or leaving the premises. They ransacked several rooms at the lodge.
Phones with a roaming service appeared to have lost their network even though it could not be readily established whether this was a result of a deliberate interference with the system or a genuine technical problem.
As it become clear that Mugabe has lost in the weekend polls senior Zanu-PF officials have started panicking fearing retribution.Â
Part of their strategy is to force ZEC to delay the result until Mugabe has found a way to deal with the problem.
â€œWe have been told to hold on to the numbers,â€ said a senior ZEC official. Mugabe is behind the tactic to manage a potentially volatile situation.â€
Deputy Information minister Bright Matonga told the Herald on Wednesday that Zanu PF was preparing for a runoff.
This statement, analysts say, indicates that Mugabe has lost the election. Observers are worried about the delay.
Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission, said the ruling Zanu PF was considering the possibility of defeat.
â€œI was talking to some of the bigwigs in the ruling party and they also are concerned about the possibility of a change of guard,â€ he told a South African radio station.
â€œZanu PF has actually been institutionalised in the lives of Zimbabweans, so it is not easy for anyone within the sphere of the ruling party to accept that â€˜maybe we might be defeated or might have been defeatedâ€™,â€™â€ he said.
While ZEC sits on the results of the presidential polls Mugabe is using time to consider his options.
Senior Zanu-PF officials said Mugabe was considering using his presidential powers to have the run off election in 90 days instead of the constitutional 21 days.
During that time Mugabe would rule by decree which means there would be a state of emergency.
Mugabe is also considering a run-off but is afraid that the odds are heavily tipped against him now he is seen as vulnerable. He is also understood to have tried to reach out to the MDC with a proposal of a six-month transitional government. But there have been no takers.
â€œHowever he plays it, he has lost,â€ a Western diplomat said yesterday. â€œThe monolithic image has been shattered.â€
By Shakeman Mugari