by Constance Manika
– Zimbabwe –
On Saturday, March 29th, I was one of the millions of Zimbabweans who went to the polls to choose a new president. I cast my vote to choose both a lower and upper house of assembly representative in parliament and a councilor in my constituency.
Up to now I could not figure out why we had to go into such a huge election when the current government is technically bankrupt and presiding over an economy with an inflation rate of more than 140,000 percent at its highest point.
They say “your vote is secret” but mine is not: I went and voted President Robert Mugabe and his cronies out of power. I believe their time is up — they have done enough damage to our lives. This is why I woke up at 5am on Saturday morning to vote, just like many other disheartened Zimbabweans who are ready for change. I was determined to vote dictatorship and tyranny out.
And, so far it appears we have succeeded.
After waiting since Saturday for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to announce the presidential results, we finally have the results of the lower house of assembly elections.
Though the results have been announced at a snail’s pace over the past four days (since Monday), they show that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by former unionist Morgan Tsvangirai, has won 99 out of 210 lower house of assembly seats.
The smaller MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara (that emerged after a split in the opposition in 2005) obtained 10 seats while the Mugabe’s ZANU PF party won 97 seats. Another seat was taken by an independent candidate. All total, the opposition has won 110 seats. The remaining three seats will be contested since three of the candidates died before the poll.
This means the opposition has won control of the lower house of parliament, upsetting the majority that ZANU PF has maintained since independence.
Zimbabwe is now awaiting the results of the elections for president and the upper house of assembly which means senators and councilors. The slow pace at which ZEC is announcing the results has triggered fears that Mugabe is up to his usual tricks again and could be working to rig the election.
Former information minister Jonathan Moyo, who was once part of the ZANU PF government and guest of honor at the journalist Quill Club in Harare on April 2nd says this election is not “riggable.”
“This election is very difficult to rig. I would actually be tempted to say it is not ‘riggable.’ Part of the reason for the delay is because there is anxiety in the security, especially those service chiefs who unwisely, or rather foolishly, told the whole world that they would not salute any other winner than Mugabe.
“ZANU PF is now history. The total disintegration of the party has started. This time it’s the real disintegration. Only if they are gracious in this defeat will the people give them another chance. The authorities are managing defeat, and they are not used to [that].”
But in light of the delay, Zimbabweans have been unusually calm after heeding calls by Tsvangirai to remain patient for ZEC to announce the results without looking for a confrontation. Tsvangirai fears Mugabe could take advantage of violence or protest and declare a state of emergency, effectively disregarding the election results.
In anticipation of post-election violence, police commissioner Augustine Chihuri deployed thousands of police recruits supported by water cannons imported from Israel. These recruits spent the day parked at shopping centers in almost every residential suburb in Zimbabwe, itching to beat up “over-zealous supporters of Tsvangirai,” as they’ve been called by Chihuri.
Now because there has been no civil unrest, Mugabe’s partisan police spend the day harassing innocent civilians out of boredom. A few days ago they chased and beat up patrons at bars in Mufakose and Kambuzuma, declaring that there is now a 7pm curfew. At the market place in Mufakose recently, police chased away vegetable vendors and traders. In the chaos, vendors lost valuable stock. Eyewitnesses said the police were laughing the entire time as frightened people fled in all directions.
It appears these are the same bad apples in the police force that are obviously upset about the possibility of a new political dispensation in the country that may bring them to trial for human rights violations.
Already the MDC has claimed victory of the presidential election with 50.3 percent of the vote, while asserting that Mugabe received 43 percent. I believe them. Even during the early hours of Sunday, one day after the election, MDC secretary-general of the Tsvangirai faction, Tendai Biti declared his party had won both the presidential and house of assembly elections. Biti based his claim on the figures that the MDC had collected through its election agents around the country.
On Monday, March 31st the independent Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) projected Tsvangirai’s vote at 49.4 percent against 42 percent for Mugabe; Simba Makoni who made a late entry into the presidential race after recently splitting from Mugabe’s party was projected to have taken seven percent of the vote. The margin of error of these projections was 2.7 percent. Add that 2.7 percent to Tsvangirai’s 49.4 percent and you have an outright MDC victory.
At a press conference earlier in the week Biti said, “If the ZEC continues to delay in announcing the official election results…Zimbabweans…will have no option but to source the results from the parallel (black) market.”
(Because of the country’s economic problems most basic commodities are now found on the black market. The black market is also awash with foreign currency that is in short supply in the official economy because the official exchange rate of $1 USD to Z$30,000 is not as attractive as $1 USD to Z$40 million, the black market rate. So needless to say many Zimbabweans choose to sell their foreign currency to black market dealers at this higher rate.)
Although Mugabe’s cronies have attacked the MDC for usurping the powers of ZEC by announcing its own results, Mugabe himself has not been seen in public since voting day when he cast his vote in the Highfield suburb of Harare with his family.
He has not come out to claim victory as he has done in previous elections and this has spurred speculation that indeed the projections by the MDC are true and that Mugabe may have to concede defeat.
Earlier in the week, information leaked that Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Operatives planned to rig the election in his favor and declare him the winner by 53 percent. However following the leak of this information, it appears ZANU PF chickened out and went back to the drawing board.
Already the state media has begun to “prepare” the people of Zimbabwe for a runoff in the next 21 days. The state-owned Herald newspaper declared that “the pattern of returns” shows that no candidate would win the presidential election by 50 percent or more required by the Zimbabwean constitution to claim outright victory.
Although MDC insists it has won and that a runoff should not be necessary, the opposition party says it will accept the runoff for one reason: to prove that the people of Zimbabwe want Mugabe out.
It is quite clear that if Mugabe goes into a runoff, he will have been ill-advised by his cronies who are bent on clinging to power to protect their business interests. Because in the event of a runoff, all the opposition parties and independent candidates will unite to remove Mugabe, delivering to him a huge and humiliating defeat.
A new wave of change would be created in the event of a runoff; even those people who had registered but failed to vote on March 29th (there was significant voter apathy in Zimbabwean urban areas) will brave the long queues and come out by the millions to vote Mugabe out.
As I write this piece I am beside myself with excitement — I can barely believe that a new Zimbabwe is just around the corner. I am optimistic that the MDC party will form a nationally united government with all those who opposed Mugabe in the election so that we can all come together and build a strong and prosperous future for our country.
There is a breath of fresh air blowing here and the patient, hard working Zimbabweans are cherishing every minute of it.
We want ZEC to announce the results as soon as possible so that we can begin rebuilding our nation, so that we may prosper again. The millions of Zimbabweans who are economic refugees now living in other countries but who yearn for their home must get ready to come back. Soon they can claim their space in a new Zimbabwe.
About the Author
Constance Manika is a journalist who works for the independent press in Zimbabwe. She writes under this pseudonym to escape prosecution from a government whose onslaught and level of intolerance to journalists in the independent press is well documented.
In Meltdown in Zimbabwe, an exclusive and ongoing series at The WIP, Constance provides continued on-the-ground reporting from her embattled country where Zimbabweans struggle daily for democracy, economic sustainability and human rights.