Friday, 27 June 2008

Restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place …….

Zimbabwe's version of the White House is a colonial mansion, with two stuffed and moth-eaten lions at the entrance. Inside this spacious retreat, Robert Mugabe will claim victory after today's bloodsoaked fiasco of an election.

But his triumph could scarcely be more hollow. The atrocities of the past few weeks have been so unspeakable and the electoral chicanery so egregious that no one, possibly not even President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, will grant him the halo of an elected leader.

This is a crucial moment. All the signs are that election observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Pan-African Parliament will denounce Mr Mugabe's re-election for the travesty it was.

This has never happened before. Mr Mugabe only let these observers into his country because they have blithely approved every previous poll - including Zimbabwe's murderous presidential elections in 2002.

Their condemnation of the contest, if it comes, will be a stinging blow. The first consequence will probably be the unprecedented spectacle of African leaders declining to recognise Mr Mugabe's victory. Even Mr Mbeki, who has exasperated everyone with his indulgence of Zimbabwe's leader, will find it extremely hard to recognise Mr Mugabe as a legitimate president.

On Monday night, Britain helped ensure the unanimous passage of a statement by the UN Security Council, which presently includes South Africa. The crucial passage reads: "The Security Council regrets that the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on June 27." By signing up to these words, South Africa has agreed that today's poll will have no credibility. Logic demands that Mr Mbeki cannot then recognise the outcome. Thanks partly to persistent British diplomacy, South Africa has been boxed in.

So, however much he celebrates his "victory", Mr Mugabe may find that no one else views him as Zimbabwe's elected president.

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