With 61 per cent of the votes going in his favour, Robert Mugabe should have been the uncontested winner of Zimbabwe’s presidential elections. But a dense cloud of doubt hangs over his seventh win as his former alliance partner, outgoing prime minister and main contender, Morgan Tsvangirai, has refused to accept the verdict of what he alleges is a rigged contest. Such allegations are no longer a surprise in any democratic contest anywhere in the world. Given that there is the usual evidence of voting irregularities, Mr Tsvangirai’s demand for a repoll may not be extraordinary either. But what is unique about the situation in Zimbabwe is that it has driven opinion about the veracity of the polls along lines that coincide with older and wider divides. Mr Tsvangirai’s demands, for example, have found favour among a host of European countries, the United States of America, the United Kingdom — Zimbabwe’s former colonizer — and even Australia. Mr Mugabe’s win, not surprisingly, has been upheld by Zimbabwe’s neighbours such as South Africa and Namibia as well as by the African Union, which has been spearheading the political assertiveness of African nations for a while. Even if one disagrees on Zimbabwe’s presidential elections being entangled in the colonizer-colonized debate, it will be difficult to write off the influence that men such as Mr Mugabe continue to wield because of their association with Africa’s struggle to distance itself from its colonized past. As the hero of Zimbabwe’s liberation war, Mr Mugabe holds a distinct place in the popular psyche that he has consolidated by his monopolistic control over authority in the past decades. Mr Tsvangirai and his party, Movement for Democratic Change, have been unable to weaken that hold because of their inexperience and lack of unity. Harbingers of a new order, Mr Tsvangirai and his party men have failed to see the appeal that jingoistic policies of the Zanu-PF — such as further indigenization of land and industry — continue to have among the population.
The unity government of Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai had energized Zimbabwe. This momentum has surely been lost now. With its economy on the downslide, Zimbabwe may have to painfully retrace its steps backwards unless it finds the strength to deal with Mr Mugabe’s deception.