Revolution appears Zimbabwe's last hope
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was right to withdraw from the run-off presidential 'election' in Zimbabwe on Sunday. Thousands of his supporters have been kidnapped and tortured by President Robert Mugabe's thugs since the campaign started, and 86 have been murdered already. Thousands more would probably have suffered the same fate if the election had gone ahead, and it would all have been for nothing. Mr Mugabe was determined not to let the opposition win, regardless of what the voters did. He even said so.
Mr Mugabe's strategy was clearly going to succeed: either he would win a majority of the votes because enough opposition Movement for Democratic Change supporters had been terrorised into staying at home, or he would win the count later on.
He didn't win the count the first time, in late March, because he was overconfident. After a month, the Election Commission released results showing Mr Tsvangirai with about 48 per cent of the vote to Mr Mugabe's 43 per cent - enough to force a second round of voting.
It was the best the commission could do for Mr Mugabe, but it was a huge humiliation for the liberation war hero who has ruled since independence in 1980. Mr Mugabe has misgoverned Zimbabwe so badly that this once-prosperous country now has 2 million per cent inflation. One-quarter of the population has fled to South Africa.
Mr Mugabe may not even know these statistics, but armed forces chief General Constantine Chiwenga, now the real power behind the throne, certainly does, and so do other regime members. They just don't care. If they lose power, they lose everything.
In the past week, there have been reports of senior military and political figures showing up at torture sessions of MDC militants who were subsequently released. The message was clear: we do not fear prosecution, because we will never relinquish power.
So Mr Tsvangirai had to decide how many more lives he wanted to sacrifice to force Mr Mugabe to steal the election openly. But how would that discredit Mr Mugabe any more than the crimes he is committing right now? And what good does it do to 'discredit' him?
Mr Mugabe is a scoundrel and a tyrant, and the people who run his government and his army are brazen thieves, but there will be no effective intervention in Zimbabwe from outside. Mr Tsvangirai and most of the MDC have belatedly realised that there is no point in waiting for justice to prevail - but they have probably not yet thought beyond that. Basildon Peta, the head of the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists, certainly has.
This is what he wrote after Tsvangirai announced his decision: 'I hope it won't be another long round of [South African President] 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.' Well, I can. It is revolution in the streets.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries