The result is both tragic and sadly familiar. The people of Zimbabwe, just like those in Kenya who have been through three similarly flawed elections in the same time period, have been denied an unambiguous measure of their will. Mr. Mugabe is poised to continue for another five years with the ruinous nationalist and "anti-imperialist" economic policies and political reforms that plunged a once-stable food-exporting country into a land of gaunt want.
Only this time, there are even fewer fetters to restrain him. Following the violent 2008 elections, Mugabe’s regional counterparts brokered a power-sharing arrangement between the aging autocrat and his main challenger. Mugabe retained the presidency, while the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, filled a newly created post as prime minister. Last week’s vote brought that deal to an end. Mugabe claimed more than 60 percent of the vote, and his ruling party will hold a supermajority in the next parliament – meaning he can change the Constitution as he likes and rule without the inconvenient hindrance of a strong opposition.
Were Zimbabwe, say, Equitorial Guinea, ballot mischief would hold little consequence outside the country. But Zimbabwe, like Kenya, is a significant regional hub, and its political woes pose serious economic and security liabilities for neighboring countries. Kenya, in the volatile Horn of Africa, borders the failed state of Somalia, home to Islamist terrorists who have sometimes sought refuge and subterfuge in Kenya. Zimbabwe’s refugees, meanwhile, have streamed next door to South Africa, causing tensions in the continent’s strongest economy.
So what now? As Mugabe prepares his seventh inaugural party, there is still an opportunity to strengthen multiparty politics in a way that might set an important example in Africa. Through a combination of economic sticks and carrots (such as lifting economic sanctions), the international community should coax Mugabe to announce that he will not seek reelection – a simple request with large implications.