There is, perhaps, only one question that really matters in Zimbabwe this week, as the country finally tries to move beyond the violent, disrupted elections of 2008, and the five years’ worth of tortuous negotiations and snarling political stalemate that followed. Will the loser accept the result? The answer – despite years of international mediation, an economy no longer in free-fall, a new constitution and an overwhelming public appetite for political change – appears to be veering dangerously towards a resounding “no”. In one corner, the Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, has already publically condemned this Wednesday’s vote as “a sham”, citing numerous irregularities, from an alarmingly flawed electoral roll to the enduring political bias in the security services and state media. In the other corner, President Robert Mugabe, who calls this a “do-or-die” election and has recently threatened to have his main challenger arrested, is surrounded by hardliners who have publically stated that they would “not accept” a victory by the “Western puppet” Mr Tsvangirai under any circumstances.
So where do we go from here? The optimists note the relative lack of violence in the run up to this election.
They point to the provisions of the new constitution and the large body of local observers determined to monitor the polling stations closely. And they conclude that, for all the widely acknowledged irregularities, it remains possible for Zimbabwe’s elections to be – if not exactly free and fair – then at least broadly representative of the public’s will.
The pessimists point to an enduring climate of fear in a country where none of those responsible for the violence of 2008 have been brought to justice. They worry about Zanu-PF’s formidable reputation for getting its own way at any cost.