Mugabe - from hero to pariah
By CNN's Jeff Koinange
HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- There was a time when Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, was the hero of the nation and the darling of the West -- the man who over-rode the former Rhodesia's white colonial legacy and created a stable black majority democracy.
But five years ago he moved to speed up a controversial land acquisition program that effectively took land away from the country's commercial white farmers and handed it out to blacks -- most of them party loyalists.
Many farmers and their workers were killed in the violence that followed.
Political analyst Brian Nkarogo said: "The land reform program has been a disaster. It was a necessary process -- we needed to redistribute to deal with historical factors -- but because it was ad hoc, violent and destructive, it didn't result in economic growth and social integration."
Almost overnight, Mugabe the unbeatable became Mugabe the vulnerable, and his ruling Zanu-PF party was suddenly on a backward slide.
Mugabe survived a hotly contested presidential challenge in 2002, but analysts say he has been politically wounded and may have overstayed his welcome.
"I think the ghosts of the past, the ghosts of colonial rule, the ghosts of the failure of his government to transform into a democratic government, the same manner that Mandela and others tried to transform into democratic governments, is one that haunts him," Nkarogo said.
"Yet he had been there longer and survived more turbulent times in this region perhaps is something that hurts him and perhaps something he cannot remedy in the remaining time and he's way past his sell-by-date."
Enter former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai -- the man who has hounded Mugabe in election after election.
His party, the Movement for Democratic Change or MDC, has according to experts, become Mugabe's Achilles' heel, despite losing in two elections.
But the momentum is on again in this parliamentary campaign season and the MDC is drawing big crowds.
In each election since 2000, the MDC has come up short. This time around though, they are hoping to turn the tide and hand the ruling Zanu-PF party its first defeat since independence, 25-years ago.
And the opposition seems to be smelling blood and feel victory may finally be in sight.
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, has said: "Mugabe has no option but to go."
Away from the campaign trail, Tsvangirai is quick to say Mugabe has been his own worst enemy, turning Zimbabwe into a pariah nation.
"Mugabe has pushed his luck too far in terms of fighting the world. There's no way a country can live as an island and the fact that he's been defying both national and international opinion has had an effect on the general feelings within Zanu-PF."
But Mugabe continues to campaign for his party, although his rallies have failed to draw in the crowds he once commanded. Still, he remains adamant, hammering away at anyone and everyone he views as an enemy of the state.
He has said: "We don't worry about other peoples' internal affairs. We don't bother about their governments, the irregularities that occur in their elections. They hold their elections their own way.
"Let them see how we hold our elections and recognize that we determined the future of our country, we are the government here and we don't want any interference from outside."
Economists paint a picture of doom and gloom in Zimbabwe. The country's economy is in a tailspin, the currency in a free fall and unemployment at an all-time high. A country that used to export crops is now dependent on food aid.
Yet at every campaign stop, Mugabe tells his attentive audience that Zimbabwe does not need handouts from anyone.
"We have enough resources in the country to look after our people in times of hunger and in times when they have plenty. We can do that. We shall always be able to do it."
Mugabe says this year the country expects a bumper harvest.
But Tsvangirai said: "He's talking about a bumper harvest, I said he's also ignored the fact that he's created a bumper hunger in the country. The country is going to face a very serious food shortage."
Many people are skeptical that their vote will count for very much, and few observers expect these parliamentary elections to help resolve Zimbabwe's multiple crises.
"If Mugabe wins on Thursday, the fact of the matter is the international community is not going to quickly re-engage Zimbabwe. The domestic consensus that we're trying to muster will not emerge as quickly," Nkarogo said.
And there remains the question of Robert Mugabe's intentions. His once well-disciplined party is split, and he has another three years of his presidential mandate to run.
Will he try to bow out gracefully as the father of the nation, or will he remain defiant to the end?