The 89-year-old Mugabe has a formidable record for gamesmanship. Starring in 33 consecutive seasons of his own Survivor Africa reality show, Comrade Bob has repeatedly proved that he can “outwit, outplay, outlast” any opponent, foreign or domestic.
He outwitted President Thabo Mbeki after losing the 2008 election into engineering a power-sharing deal that left him as president and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai as a powerless prime minister.
He outplayed Tsvangirai over a tortuous process that was supposed to deliver genuine democracy. That new constitution has been enacted but the security forces still answer only to Mugabe and media freedom is still constrained.
He outlasted his fiercest international critics, various leaders of the UK, US and the major European powers. It helped that as elected leaders these men and women have comparatively short tenures, while Mugabe has had since 1980 to tighten his grip with populist land seizures and by the ruthless deployment of the state security apparatus against any opposition.
Mugabe’s critics have been not only distracted by pressing economic problems at home, but since their so-called “smart” sanctions have demonstrably failed and since they have been excluded by Zimbabwe from any election monitoring role, they don’t really have any political cards left to play.
Roeland van de Geer, European Union (EU) ambassador to South Africa, has lamented the exclusion of the EU monitors, who he is quoted as saying are “tougher” than those from the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Van de Geer says that if these African observers declare the elections free and fair, the EU would have to lift all remaining sanctions on Mugabe’s government.
Human Rights Watch has warned that the chances of having free, fair and credible elections are “slim”. But as AfricaFocus Bulletin notes, they possibly may nevertheless be judged “credible enough” by some for reasons of expediency.
One must hope then that SADC has developed some backbone since the 2008 debacle. The SADC declared that particular poll a “peaceful and credible expression” of the will of the Zimbabwean people immediately after the polling booths closed – this after hundreds had died violently and before the vote count was kept secret for more than a month, while Zanu-PF desperately massaged the results in order to deprive Tsvangirai of victory.
This time around it seems that Zanu-PF is better prepared against nasty democratic shocks. It now has legions of “ghost” voters to deploy.
An independent audit found that more than a million people registered as voters were dead, while more than half of the constituencies have more voters registered than inhabitants. Guess who the zombie voters will be marking their crosses for on Wednesday?
All this Zanu-PF skulduggery might even not be necessary. The opposition is divided and an additional factor is disenchantment with Tsvangirai and the MDC over their role in the governing coalition.
Whatever happens on Wednesday, trust one thing. Even if Mugabe loses, he will win.