The Zimbabwean election, scheduled for the end of this month, is likely to be flawed, but there is still time to ensure that it is substantially free and fair and the outcome is a reasonable reflection of the will of the people. The contest is basically between President Robert Mugabe, who has held on to power for more than 30 years, in part through the use of violence and intimidation by his supporters in previous polls, and his prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai. The two were forced into a power-sharing government after an inconclusive election in 2008, amid widespread allegations of intimidation of Tsvangirai and his supporters.
There are a myriad concerns. The casting of special votes was marred by a shortage of balloting material, polling stations opened late and there were irregularities in the voters roll. By many reports, the electoral commission in Zimbabwe is struggling to be ready for the poll. There will be 600 observers from African countries keeping an eye on the polls, along with 6,000 local monitors. Western observers have not been invited because of sanctions they have imposed on Mugabe and his top officials for property seizures and human rights violations.
The observers must do what they can to ensure the poll is substantially free and fair. The African Union and its member states must make it clear to Mugabe that he will not be allowed to unfairly win another flawed election. At a time when Africa is making significant economic and political progress, Mugabe cannot remain a blight on the continent.