If Zimbabwe's voters were allowed to freely express their will, they would in all probability kick the ruling Zanu-PF party out of power. The government has long employed outdated anti-imperialist rhetoric to distract attention away from its mismanagement and corruption. But after two-and-a-half decades of misrule - and a 30 per cent drop in gross domestic product over the past five years alone - citizens have begun to see through the charade. Unfortunately, there is scant hope today's poll results will reflect the strength of this dissatisfaction. All the signs point to systematic intimidation leading up to what could be a highly irregular vote. The absence of outright violence this year, compared with the dozens of murders seen during the 2002 presidential election, has won praise for President Robert Mugabe. Opposition politicians have even been allowed to hold rallies and access the television airwaves. Not far beneath the surface, however, this election season has been as flawed as any witnessed in Zimbabwe in recent years. Rural chiefs and farmers speak of pressure being exerted to ensure there are no votes for the opposition in their areas. Political rallies include the conspicuous presence of note-taking government agents. Crucial grain supplies have been withheld in areas deemed unsupportive of Zanu-PF, while party registration cards are reportedly required to buy food in some places. Publications not friendly to the government have long been closed. Those that remain hardly dare to go against the official line. Threats of retribution for voting the wrong way are barely disguised, while thousands of new polling districts have been created to make it easier to find out who voted incorrectly and deliver on the promise. There are also concerns over registration lists, which may contain up to a million long-dead voters. Not only does the fix appear to be set, only the friendliest of outside monitoring groups have been allowed to watch first-hand. The situation cannot be a normal one when the opposition's poll-watchers are instructed to 'record the result, tell a friend, then run like hell'. There will be severe limitations when it comes to judging the results of this election. Both the European Union and the United States have expressed concerns, but a huge responsibility will fall on Zimbabwe's African neighbours, who have been allowed to send observers. The African Union and South Africa, Zimbabwe's influential neighbour to the south, must be prepared to call things as they are. They should also consider keeping their monitors in the country for some days after the election. That the Mugabe regime has adopted a more subtle approach to election-rigging does not make his dictatorship any more legitimate. Any result that gives the ruling party a comfortable majority should be viewed with immense scepticism.