The New York Times is reporting that Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean tyrant, may resign at the result of his clear loss in the presidential election over the weekend. Usually, dictators don't hold elections that they can't win, but apparently even this basic element of authoritarian governance was beyond Mugabe's grasp. Needless to say, this is hardly the outcome anyone expected.

After all, Mugabe is not one to put up with opposition. While the world hailed him as a liberation hero in the 1970's, he was making clear promises to rule Zimbabwe as a one-party state. Using North Korean trained troops, he immediately followed up on that pledge and killed some 20,000 minority Ndebeles in the 1980's to secure his rule. The last (and only time) he officially lost an election was in 2000, when he attempted to shove through a constitutional amendment that would have, among other measures, allowed the government to seize white-owned farm land without compensation. He lost at the polls, but proceeded to go about implementing his ruinous policy anyway, which has led to today's Weimar inflation and the largest refugee crisis in the world (worse than Iraq's). For the past eight years, his regime has harassed, tortured, murdered, or driven into exile countless opposition figures. So while it's tempting to hold out hope that reports of his imminent demise are true, there is very little about Zimbabwe's history or Mugabe's own behavior to suggest that he would ever retire without handpicking a successor, or that he would ever be forced out office without a fight. 

Rumors abound that Mugabe has already fled the country (to Malaysia, his favorite vacation spot, and, perhaps now, site of asylum). It would be a grave injustice were Mugabe, as a condition of his stepping down, to enjoy the twilight of his life living in comfortable exile as Idi Amin did in Saudi Arabia. Regime change in Zimbabwe would also afford the opportunity of delivering justice to another mass murderer, Mengistu Haile Mariam, whom Mugabe has sheltered since the Marxist dictator fled Ethiopia in 1991. The "international community," if such a thing exists, stands for nothing if it misses out on this two-for-the-price-of-one opportunity.

--James Kirchick