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Crowds in Harare, Zimbabwe, celebrated Sunday after Robert Mugabe was officially expelled as the leader of his political party. Credit Kim Ludbrook/European Pressphoto Agency

The struggle to oust Robert Mugabe from power in Zimbabwe dragged on a bit longer on Sunday night when the 93-year-old president went on television and did not resign.

Uniformed officers arrayed to his right sat expressionless and even helped Mr. Mugabe shuffle the pages of his rambling, 20-minute speech, making clear that after negotiating with him for several days — days that saw a massive march celebrating what was thought to be his imminent fall and Mr. Mugabe’s ouster as leader of his own party — the military was not prepared to depose him by force. In the chaotic context, that passed as good news.

Mr. Mugabe’s refusal to go gently into the night after 37 years of despotic rule was bound to be a major immediate disappointment to many of his countrymen. But after a specially convened meeting of the ruling ZANU-PF party expelled him as its leader on Sunday and ordered him to resign by noon Monday or face impeachment, it was all but certain that he would soon be out of office.

How the ouster plays out, and whether Mr. Mugabe’s most likely successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, proves to be less authoritarian, remain major questions. But for now, the military’s decision to intervene while not taking power outright was preferable to a coup d’état. It is better for Zimbabwe, which has known only one leader since the end of white-minority rule, and for Africa, where many countries are under despotic “big man” rule, that the expulsion of Mr. Mugabe follow constitutional and democratic norms, even if the military has run roughshod over those norms for years, and may do so yet again.

It was Mr. Mugabe’s firing of Mr. Mnangagwa as vice president on Monday to clear the way for the president’s wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed her husband that prompted the military to put Mr. Mugabe under house arrest on Wednesday. Mrs. Mugabe, 52, was highly unpopular because of her lavish personal spending and political maneuvering, while Mr. Mnangagwa, a feared former security chief known as “Crocodile,” was popular with the military.

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Mr. Mugabe, who has dominated his nation for decades through the support of former independence fighters and ruthless suppression of political rivals, was broadly reviled in the West, where he was held responsible for plunging Zimbabwe into economic chaos and allowing his cronies to accumulate money and power. But his credentials as a leader of the liberation struggle gave him a special standing among many of his countrymen, and many other Africans.

We can hope that South Africa and Zimbabwe’s other Southern African neighbors, who will be meeting this week in Angola, can help guarantee an orderly transition.

Beyond that, whoever takes the helm as the country enters a post-Mugabe era should heed the crowds who cheered the despot’s fall from power and take serious steps to end the cronyism, corruption and poor economic management that has kept Zimbabwe from enjoying the prosperity that its resources and geography should bring.

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