PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe goes to the forthcoming elections with a spruced up image, after over four years of leading a fractious coalition government, analysts have said.
After the 2008 bloody elections, Mugabe's stature was diminished, especially in the eyes of the international community which labelled him a villain.
He was vilified in the media for the country's poor human rights record. But five years down the line, the Zanu PF leader appears to have metamorphosed, thanks to his cunningness and a successful rebranding by both his friends and foes.
Until recently when the country entered into an election mode, none other than the likes of Prime Minister and MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai were defending him as a good statesman.
Tsvangirai's deputy and former Mugabe critic, Professor Arthur Mutambara also appears now to be a disciple of the 89-year-old leader.
Political analyst, Joy Mabenge said the Mugabe people knew in 2008 was different from the one they now know in 2013.
He said Mugabe was the biggest beneficiary of the GPA and the Inclusive Government which he has used to clean his image and "rise from the ashes".
"The first tactic was to get the two MDCs on an equalisation footing with Zanu PF and so the blame on misgovernance, corruption and all ills associated with taking the country to the doldrums is now shared across the political parties," said Mabenge.
He said the MDCs, hitherto not so much blamed for the country's ills, were now taking a fair share from the court of public opinion.
He said Mugabe had managed well the deployment of his coalition partners, especially as messengers of bad news to the nation while he remained in a fairly comfort zone.
Mabenge said for Mugabe, it was now about legacy. He said renewal of the Mugabe brand mostly appealed to young people, most of them first-time voters who may not necessarily share the MDCs' well-documented struggles for democratisation over the past decade.
He noted Mugabe has also played the victim card well.
"Whether or not this translates to votes is something else, but clearly the old man is not finished yet, which is why he is the only person from Zanu PF who can stand against Tsvangirai and square neck to neck," said the political analyst.
He said the Zanu PF leader was multi-faceted and had mastered the art of deploying the right face at the right time for the right purpose and in this instance, he has gained significant public sympathy by playing the victim card well.
GNU cleansed him -- Gumbo
Another political analyst and social rights activist, Hopewell Gumbo agreed that Mugabe's bad image had been polished over the past few years.
"There is glaring and apparent evidence that the GNU has shampooed Mugabe to a large extent," he said.
Gumbo said this had given him a new and fresh breath, allowing Zanu PF to re-organise and pick up the pieces from the 2007-2008 plunge.
He said it was clear that his image was "soiled" in the minds of many who had "toiled under his misrule" in the last two decades.
"But new generations, whose interface with the Zimbabwe of today, may fall victim to the cosmetics that he is applying into his day-to-day interactions with diverse sections of Zimbabwe, ranging from sport to the synagogues [churches]," said Gumbo.
"He is obviously giving a full effort to remain at State House in the coming elections and his call for peace, while it is encouraging, should be taken with a pinch of salt."
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Shakespeare Hamauswa said programmes such as the Presidential Scholarship Scheme and events such as the Bob89 soccer tournament and 21st February Movement commemorations, have been used to spruce up Mugabe's image.
He said soccer tournaments brought together people from different political backgrounds and helped promote nation building.
Hamauswa said Mugabe's had also tried to build his image by his constant calls for peace and promises to economically empower youths and other groups.
However, Hamauswa said Mugabe had to walk the talk if efforts to rebrand him were to bear fruit.
"People want violence to be addressed not by words, but by taking action. They want perpetrators to be brought to book and if this is done, then Mugabe's words will be taken seriously," he said.
MDC ministers who showered praises on the president
Recently, three cabinet ministers from the MDCs admitted to a British newspaper that Mugabe was double-faced, an attribute that has enabled him to cling on to power for a long time.
MDC leader and Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube said he had been exposed to a different side of Mugabe that he never imagined existed. He said Mugabe showed real concern for his country and people, like a father.
MDC secretary-general and Regional Integration and International Co-operation minister, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said she did not know that Mugabe was "a serious charmer around women".
MDC-T organising secretary, Nelson Chamisa, who is also the Information Communication Technology minister, said he admired Mugabe's intellect.
But analysts said the expressions by the ministers proved that Mugabe had successfully rebranded himself by hook or by crook.