With his opponent withdrawn by default from Friday’s crunch poll, veteran Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will be sworn in for a new five-year term, but analysts expect his government to be more isolated than before.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the presidential race Sunday, citing violence and intimidation of his supporters and members by government militants.
His party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), claims more than 80 of its supporters and members had been killed in the run-up to the election, and scores others injured and displaced.
In the circumstances, he said, the party had “resolved that we will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate sham of an electoral process.”
The withdrawal is a huge relief for Mugabe, who lost to Tsvangirai in the first round of the vote in March, and was also widely tipped to lose again in the re-run Friday.
But analysts expect Mugabe, who until now had enjoyed support in Africa, most especially in southern Africa, to be isolated this time after retaining power controversially.
They cite forthright voices of disapproval of the way his government had conducted the campaign for the election from even Zimbabwe’s closest friends, its neighbours, as indication of trouble ahead for Mugabe.
In southern Africa, until now Zimbabwe’s bastion of support and solidarity, a number of countries have broken ranks, and are openly questioning the veteran leader’s legitimacy.
Botswana last week summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador to protest the crackdown on the opposition, while Angola told Harare authorities to exhibit a spirit of tolerance to its political opponents.
Tanzania, which currently chairs the African Union, was more forthright, and openly expressed doubt last week that Friday’s poll in Zimbabwe was going to be free and fair given violence and intimidation.
Zambia, which chairs the regional Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), at the weekend called for the poll to be scrapped in the face of difficulties the opposition was having in campaigning.
Earlier, President Levy Mwanawasa convened an emergency SADC meeting to discuss Zimbabwe’s electoral impasse.
“He (Mugabe) will retain power, but he has lost friends and certainly support among his friends in the region and Africa as a whole, and this at a time Zimbabwe needs them (friends) most,” a SADC diplomat, who requested not to be named, said .
“As you know, Zimbabwe has no other friends in the world right now apart from it s neighbours. Losing these too will be devastating for Zimbabwe, and the government in particular,” he added, referring to the longstanding diplomatic tiff between Zimbabwe and the West over land reforms and human rights.
For starters, the diplomat said he foresaw no regional leader coming to Mugabe’s inauguration, a long tradition in SADC when a new president takes office or has been re-elected.
Western countries have threatened to impose more tougher sanctions against Zimbabwe over the aborted poll, and to press the country’s neihgbours to do so to send a message to Mugabe.
Until now, Zimbabwe’s neighbours resisted western pressure to isolate Mugabe, be lieving he was a victim of a self-serving regime change agenda led by Harare’s former coloniser, Britain.
Now the pressure might be difficult, if at all possible, to resist, a university teacher, who requested anonymity, said.
“The countries (Zimbabwe’s neighbours) themselves are offended by what has happened. They will moreso be if given an incentive (western prodding) to be,” he added.
Already, Mugabe and his top lieutenants are subject to travel restrictions to Europe and the US, as well as personal financial sanctions.
On the other hand, Zimbabwe has been blacklisted by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, among other western-controlled bilateral and multilateral financiers.