Even before the final votes had been counted, Robert Mugabe's allies claimed a comprehensive victory that would extend his 33-year rule. The 89-year-old has seemingly performed a political miracle, winning by a landslide despite years of crippling unemployment that forced millions to emigrate.
Mugabe's bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai has rejected the vote as a "huge farce" and "null and void". "It's a sham election that does not reflect the will of the people," he said, pointing to a litany of alleged irregularities with the voters' roll.
The African Union quickly declared the vote free and fair, dismissing widespread allegations of rigging. Former Nigerian president and military leader Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly said that the vote was basically free and fair. "There are incidences that could have been avoided, but all in all we do not believe that these incidents will amount to the results not reflecting the will of the people," he said.
But independent observers said as many as one million people were prevented from voting in opposition urban strongholds, while Mugabe's support was inflated by repeat and "ghost" voters.
Foreign diplomats have expressed deep misgivings about a poll they have described privately as non-violent but fundamentally flawed.
Even with a fair and transparent election, it was hard for a fractured and polarized MDC to win. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is seen by many as having lost momentum and the moral high ground after entering a power-sharing agreement. The MDC stands accused of the sins of incumbency, its leadership seduced by ministerial houses and luxury cars; the party has been forced to discipline some councillors for corruption. It failed to heal a factional rift that divided its support. Now they have to rebrand and have a leadership renewal. They might start asking themselves if they should continue with Tsvangirai as leader.
It is going to be very difficult for the MDC to make a comeback with fewer members in parliament.
Official results may give Mugabe's ZANU-PF a two-thirds majority in parliament. That would be enough to rewrite a new constitution overwhelmingly approved by Zimbabweans in March, which introduced term limits and curbs on presidential powers. Control of the presidency and parliament would then give Mugabe's party breathing room to choose a successor.
The disputed outcome risks plunging Zimbabwe -- which battled a decade-long downturn marked by galloping inflation and mass migration -- back into deep crisis. Investors also expressed fears about the impact of a Mugabe victory, which could roll back the power-sharing government's efforts to stabilising the economy after crippling hyperinflation and joblessness. Banks and financial firms could become the targets of a new Mugabe government seeking to extend its programme of indigenisation, after agriculture and mining.
Mugabe -- Africa's oldest leader -- is a former guerrilla leader hailed as a hero of Africa's liberation movement, guiding Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 from Britain and white minority rule.
But his military-backed rule has been marked by controversial land reforms, a series of violent crackdowns, economic crises and suspect elections that have brought international sanctions and made him a pariah in the West.
After five long years of talks, agreements, power-sharing, constitution-writing and elections, Zimbabwe may be back where it started, with Mugabe firmly in the driver's seat. Zimbabwe's disputed election has plunged the country back into a deep political crisis and could open the way for decades more of autocratic rule.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit-AFP: Robert Mugabe & His wife, casting theirs votes..