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Mugabe in tight spot

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, defeated by main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the cliffhanger presidential election last weekend, is cornered as he tries to fight back after his dramatic eviction notice from State House.

This comes as pressure mounted yesterday for Mugabe to release results of the presidential poll which the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is withholding on his orders as part of a crisis management strategy. The results are being held back to give Mugabe enough time to plan his escape from the tight spot he is in.
The United States, Britain and the European Union, as well as local and foreign civic groups, have urged Mugabe to immediately allow the ZEC to release the results. American diplomats met the Tsvangirai faction this week to help deal with the situation. Tsvangirai met Simba Makoni yesterday to find a way forward.
As the crisis deepens, head of the African Union (AU) election observer mission Ahmed Tejan Kabbah met with Mugabe and Tsvangirai yesterday.
The ruling Zanu PF’s decision-making politburo meets today to confront Mugabe’s defeat and his party’s loss.
Fireworks are expected at the meeting of the deeply-divided body where political hawks led by Emmerson Mnangagwa and moderates are likely clash over what to do next. Hardliners, sources said, will urge Mugabe to fight on, while level-headed politburo members led by rival Solomon Mujuru would recognise the extent of his defeat and counsel he should go.  
Zanu PF and MDC representatives are also meeting to discuss the crisis. American, British, European Union and African diplomats are involved in shuttle diplomacy to deal with the crisis, especially the release of results and ways of stopping Mugabe from digging in.
Sadc diplomats are anxious that delays could trigger unrest. They are keen to see a smooth transition. Already tension and uncertainty are mounting.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown this week called South African President Thabo Mbeki and urged him to tackle the situation. Britain is said to be anxious to prevent chaos in the country.
Mbeki has dispatched his envoy Kingsley Mamabolo, former high commissioner to Harare who is part of the Sadc election observer mission, to engage Zanu PF and the MDC with a view of forming a Government of National Unity. Mbeki could be on his way to Harare soon to persuade Mugabe to step aside or resolve the deadlock through constitutional means, it was said.
The ZEC has so far only announced results for the House of Assembly and was last night due to begin releasing senate results. The outcome for the presidential poll is not yet out. ZEC officials blame the delay on logistical problems.
But Mugabe is said to be delaying the release of results to buy time and push for the elapse of the 21 day window within which the run-off must be held. Counting of votes was completed on Sunday. Sources said the acting Attorney-General’s Office advised government on the legal position about the run-off and indicated the time allocated for the process would not be enough.
Mugabe is said to be now trying to amend the Electoral Act to have the run-off in 90 days. This would give him enough time to plan his fight back. Alternatively, Mugabe wants a six-month transitional government while a solution to the deadlock is found. 
During that period, sources said, Mugabe would resort to scorched earth policies similar to those in 2000 after his defeat in a constitutional draft referendum to retain power.
After the 2000 defeat Mugabe seized farms and threatened to grab companies to reassert his grip on power. Zanu PF militias were deployed countrywide to fight across hinterlands to shore up his faltering rule. It said that Mugabe is under pressure from hardliners to fight back using similar militant methods. 
This has come up in ongoing talks between Zanu PF and the MDC. Zanu PF has sent its point man Nicholas Goche to meet MDC representative and newly-elected MP Jameson Timba to discuss the issue. The meetings were held this week. It is said Zanu PF heavyweight retired army chief General Solomon Mujuru has contacted the MDC to find ways of dealing with the crisis.
Sources said members of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) — which comprises the army, police and intelligence chiefs — were keen to discuss the situation with Tsvangirai.            
Kabbah met with Mugabe to avert conflict triggered by his refusal to let go. The former Sierra Leone president met with Mugabe at State House yesterday to discuss the volatile situation. He also met with Tsvangirai in a bid to resolve the deadlock created by Mugabe’s blocking of the official poll result and refusal to publicly concede defeat.
It is understood Kabbah, who left yesterday for the AU HQ in Addis Ababa to report back on the Zimbabwe election, was acting as an envoy for AU chair, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete who is under pressure to tackle the current crisis.
The AU secretariat is chaired by ex-Gabon foreign minister Jean Ping whom southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, did not want to come in ahead of Zambia’s Inonge Lewanika.
Zanu PF’s politburo is due to meet in Harare today for an emergency session to deal with the situation.
Mugabe — now a hostage to the crisis he has created — is weighing his options. His alternatives are clear: surrender and quit; fight on and enter a run-off that many including some in his party say he would lose dismally; or negotiate with Tsvangirai’s MDC for a government of national unity which would involve a safe exit.
Mugabe needs a smooth exit strategy to avoid possible prosecution for human rights abuses by his regime. This has  been one of his main motives for clinging onto power.
It is said that Mugabe’s advisors in JOC are worried about their future and have been trying to dig in while searching for a solution. Talking to Tsvangirai is part of the process.
Sources say radicals in the JOC who include Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, Police commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, and Director of Prisons Major-General Paradzai Zimondi want Mugabe to fight on via a run-off.

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