Any day now, Zimbabwe’s highest court is expected to hand Robert Gabriel Mugabe five more years to add to the 33 spent at the helm of his country. Four years after the bloodshed of the previous elections resulted in an internationally brokered unity government comprising Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the President has delivered a largely peaceful if not entirely credible election. In 2008, Mr. Mugabe was trailing the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai when the security forces essentially ended the contest by killing more than 200 people. This time around, the 89-year-old liberation veteran won 61 per cent of the vote, while his party claimed a two-thirds majority in parliament. The African Union and Zimbabwe’s neighbours, barring Botswana, have cautiously endorsed the result but have rightly pointed to serious shortcomings in the polling process — particularly voter registration, inaccurate voters’ rolls, printing of millions of additional ballot papers and the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters. The conduct of the electoral commission, as Mr. Tsvangirai noted, resembled a referee who had thrown away his whistle and joined the other team. Mr. Tsvangirai had asked Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court to nullify the elections, but withdrew his challenge on the expectation that the judiciary is unlikely to cross swords with Mr. Mugabe. Nevertheless, the court, which had directed the government to hold general elections by July 31 at all costs, is expected to rule on the matter on Tuesday.

If Mr. Mugabe has manipulated the process, Mr. Tsvangirai must also accept that his party was hopelessly outmanoeuvred. The MDC was caught unawares by the sudden declaration of polls and went into the election in two minds, promising victory while insisting that the process was rigged against them. Torn between its many constituencies of white farmers, western allies, trade unions, civil society, disaffected urban youth, and the countless others alienated by ZANU-PF’s interminable rule, the MDC failed to put forward a clear agenda. The ZANU-PF, in the meantime, spent four years fine-tuning its party machinery, rallying its supporters, demonising its detractors and spelling out a coherent strategy of land reform and indigenisation that consolidated its impressive rural mass base. After a decade of economic turmoil, ZANU-PF’s controversial land reform has delivered farms to hundreds of thousands of families, while the dollarisation of the economy has lent some stability to the national economy. In the run-up to this election, Mr. Mugabe’s supporters and critics were predicting a ZANU-PF victory anyway; the tragedy of the managed polls is that we shall never really know for sure.

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