- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Where are the election observers as Zimbabwe’s June 27 presidential election approaches? They are barred, at least the major Western observers, by Robert Mugabe’s regime. Mr. Mugabe has promised to invite several regional bodies, including the African Union and the South African Development Community, but he has not yet done so. This means that just two weeks before the election, there are no observers in place. Little wonder. They would find a climate of voter intimidation, no meaningful campaign activity and the arrest - in some cases the murder - of opposition figures on the pretext of “security.”

In other words, the bad old days of repression have intensified since Zimbabwe’s March runoff elections. Mr. Mugabe’s unexpected defeat back then raised speculation that a democratic regime change could eventually result. But Zimbabwe watchers now consider the chances of a free and fair election to be virtually nil. Opposition leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai himself has been detained twice in recent weeks. Mr. Mugabe has labeled the opposition “British stooges” and has vowed to prevent their victory. A convoy carrying British and American diplomats was attacked by dozens of armed supporters of the Mugabe regime last week in what the State Department described as an organized effort by members of the army, the intelligence services and pro-Mugabe veterans to harass or possibly kidnap Western diplomats (they fled to safety). It has been a long fall for the onetime hero of national liberation. The man intends to keep his office.

Beyond humanitarian imperatives, this matters to the United States. The world’s worst inflation rate, the country’s near-famine conditions and related problems fuel a regionally destabilizing refugee crisis - not to mention Mr. Mugabe’s demagoguery and association with nefarious regimes worldwide. These problems will fester as long as an illegitimate ruler remains in office.

As we have said previously, this would be an ideal time for South African President Thabo Mbeki to cut his ties to Mr. Mugabe once and for all - and for the People’s Republic of China to cease its material support. Zimbabwe’s crisis affects South Africa more than any “meddling” Western power. Mr. Mbeki should be taking the lead. China should learn that its efforts to arm this repressive regime conflict with the “foreign policy of peace” it claims to promote in this year of the Beijing Olympics.

American and European Union officials have called for a U.N. mission for Zimbabwe. This is not much of a promise, since U.N. contingencies rely on at least minimal willingness to cooperate on behalf of the host government. This, remember, is a ruler who labels his loyal opposition “enemy agents.”

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