This will be the first proper litmus test of Zimbabwe’s new order – not just the conduct of the elections themselves, but the shape of the post-election cabinet.
Will it still be militarised?
And will the opposition get a token seat or two?
No one yet knows.
But what’s clear already is that the opposition is most unlikely to take control itself.
Bitterly divided, technically unprepared for an election run with new biometric technology, and unable to make common cause with those expelled from ZANU-PF, the opposition is already predicting it will lose because the government will cheat.
But that’s not a foregone conclusion.
It may be that ZANU-PF for once actually trusts its own party organisation and manages to announce a set of clear policies and leave the feeble, disorganised MDC to emulate them.
That might just be enough to win the election fair and square.
Still, while the government will want at least one quick, clean “win” before the election – probably some breakthrough in terms of foreign direct investment – it’s hard to see where it will find one.
It won’t come from the West, and the Chinese are wary of being forever associated with Mugabe’s fall and the immediate consequences.
In any case, they are as anxious as anyone else to see Mnangagwa actually clean up corruption and ensure that what money they send him isn’t simply siphoned off.
But clearly China is mostly just happy to see Mugabe gone.
Economic competence and administrative success are at the core of the modern Chinese model, and the abysmal late years of Mugabe’s presidency were anathema.
And for all that Mnangagwa is making the right noises, the Chinese, like everyone else, will be wondering why he and the ZANU-PF establishment simply stood by and watched as the country went into disastrous decline.
According to all the old theories of elite formation and the even older ones of class formation, the solidity of society depends on well-defined, well-integrated classes. But Zimbabwe has no countervailing working class, no organised proletariat, no solid revolutionary grouping.
Like its South African counterpart the ANC, ZANU-PF was once a revolutionary force – but like the ANC, it’s now a textbook example of how noble values can decay into sheer venality.
Mnangagwa has a long way to go to restore it.
By Stephen Chan. This article was first published by The Conversation