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Page last updated at 03:01 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 04:01 UK

Mugabe's remarkable comeback

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe attends a youth convention in the capital Harare

By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News, Harare

It has been done with great brutality, but Robert Mugabe has achieved an extraordinary turnaround here.

Back in March, when the first round of voting took place, he was humiliated by being beaten into second place in the presidential race, and by losing the parliamentary election outright.

Now he's the sole effective candidate in Friday's presidential run-off, and he cannot fail to win with an overwhelming majority.

The moral is clear: never underestimate Robert Mugabe's ferocious determination to stay in power

His opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been completely outmanoeuvred. The outside world, which mostly sympathises with him, can do nothing whatever to help him.

The suburban street outside the Dutch embassy where he's taken refuge in Harare is empty, except for a few security policemen on the look-out.

Even his choice of embassy has been turned against him by his political enemies. It might well have been better for him politically if he had chosen an African rather than a European country to ask for help.

As it is, MDC supporters are gloomy and resentful. They are also cowed.

The streets of Harare are quiet because there is no longer any need for the groups of violent political activists in Zanu-PF T-shirts who have been roaming them, looking for people to beat up.

Media bias

There will be no demonstrations in favour of the man inside the Dutch embassy. He seems as cowed as his supporters.

There are plenty of people here who do not even know yet that Morgan Tsvangirai has dropped out of the political race.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement For Democratic Change party, greets supporters in Bubi near Bulawayo, Sunday, 8 June
Morgan Tsvangirai's presidential campaign has been ignored or belittled

That is not entirely surprising. The official media scarcely mentions Mr Tsvangirai or the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) unless they are obliged to.

The main English-language television news programme at 8pm each evening on the ZBC is an hour-long paean of praise to Mr Mugabe and his past record.

The programme's reporting merges imperceptibly with the frequent election advertisements for Mr Mugabe. If anything, the reporters and newscasters praise him more than his own party hacks.

As for Mr Tsvangirai, he only gets a substantial mention on television when he is being attacked. One rather well-made advertisement lists him with Tony Blair, George W Bush and Gordon Brown as members of the "failures club".

A long news report on Mr Mugabe's political campaigning contrasts his successes and his likely future achievements with Mr Tsvangirai's inexperience. The reporter, referring to Mr Tsvangirai's past as a union leader, says dismissively that he has merely negotiated about getting more money.

Neither she nor anyone else in this hour-long programme mentions that on Monday the Zimbabwean dollar fell to 30 billion against the US dollar. The cost of a tub of margarine in a Harare store on Monday was Z$420m.

Chinese support

No-one knows how much worse the economic collapse will be after Mr Mugabe wins the vote on Friday. The economy seems to be in complete freefall now.

But as long as he can blame it on Western sanctions, even though they are few and mostly aimed at leading members of Zanu-PF, he will remain unscathed.

Western powers will be openly angry about the eclipse of Morgan Tsvangirai and the sweeping victory of Robert Mugabe on Friday. Many African governments will be just as angry, but will be more discreet about it.

Some countries, China in particular, will continue to help Mr Mugabe quietly and give him what diplomatic protection they can.

It all adds up to a remarkable sweeping victory for a man who only three months ago seemed to be on the ropes.

The moral is clear: never underestimate Robert Mugabe's ferocious determination to stay in power, nor the ability of his political opponents to destroy their own case.




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