What happened
Robert Mugabe trails in polls ahead of Zimbabwe’s Saturday presidential election, but his main opponent, trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai, says Mugabe, 84, will use “every trick in the book” to rig the vote and extend his 28-year rule. (AP in the International Herald Tribune)

What the commentators said
Mugabe is “obviously worried,” said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration). His “brutal and capricious” rule has ruined the country, pushing inflation to 100,000 percent and driving “virtually every once-thriving enterprise, from commercial farming to mining,” into the ground. But Mugabe and his “henchmen” have made no secret of their plan to “resist any change.”

The opposition has been “heroic,” said The Washington Times in an editorial. Tsvangirai “has been brained and nearly killed, jailed and tortured by Mugabe henchmen,” and the other opposition candidate, Simba Makoni, is a former Mugabe minister of finance bravely running against all odds. But Mugabe “will almost surely ‘win’ re-election to another five-year term this weekend in a rigged contest.”

Even if Mugabe doesn’t win, said Robert Rotberg in the International Herald Tribune, the opposition loses. The commander of the Zimbabwean army says he “will stage a coup if there is an adverse vote. The commissioner of police, not to be outdone, promises to fire live ammunition at anyone who protests” the election or vote count. “Zimbabweans will have to brave heavy odds and the veritable horsemen of the apocalypse to oust Mugabe.”

This is still the toughest challenge Mugabe has faced, said Sebastian Nyamhangambiri in the Nairobi East African Standard, since he took power after Zimbabwe gained its independence from Great Britain in 1980. Mugabe blames the economic nightmare that has made everyone so angry on sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union, but it’s hard for a strongman to shift the blame for his policies onto someone else.