Zimbabwe went the polls on Wednesday in an election that pitted Robert Mugabe against his old rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
The contest brought down the curtain on four years of fractious unity government.
Support for the veteran 89-year-old president depends largely on his control of state media, security forces and the loyalty of independence war veterans.
At his final rally on Sunday, Mugabe dismissed Tsvangirai’s charges of vote-rigging as the unfounded complaints of a “political cry baby”. Little also appears to have changed in his anti-Western rhetoric.
“They are surprised that Zimbabwe has not collapsed under the heavy weight of sanctions. We don’t collapse, we will never collapse,” he said to cheers from thousands of supporters at a Harare stadium.
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change will no doubt be hoping it is a case of third time lucky as the prime minister attempts to unseat his rival who has led the southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980.
He is promising to restore international relations. “What we want to do is to build and not to destroy, what we want to do is to make sure that we focus on the issues affecting these people. I am saying we should welcome investors, local and international and not to harass them – stop this racist position,” said Tsvangirai.
Zimbabwe was once regarded as Africa’s bread basket, a major exporter of agricultural products, but it has struggled to feed much of its population since Mugabe’s land grab of white-owned commercial farms.
Its economy has also struggled under the weight of sanctions. Some estimates put its jobless rate at a whopping 85 percent compared to the official level of nine percent.
Even though there have been signs of a slow recovery, investors remain wary of renewing ties with Mugabe.
Political analyst, Takura Zhangazha, believes victory for Mugabe will make matters worse: “A win by President Mugabe will definitely mean that the issues around economic sanctions, issues around international isolation will still be in play, but even though there have been indications as regards the economy or foreign direct investment, that perhaps the West is willing to talk and re-engage Zimbabwe on issues relating to the economy and investment, but the condition is that elections should be free and fair.”
The results of the parliamentary and presidential vote should be known by August 5.