"I will vote.......I will vote,vote,vote and vote until everything falls in place," a man says, drawing the attention of everyone in the commuter omnibus. "I just can not wait to hear the Registrar General shout on-your-marks.....ready.......vote!"
From my seat, I look at the man and like everyone else in the vehicle, I fail to hold back a chuckle. He is quite grown-up. Probably mid-thirties or early forties but certainly not somebody one can mistake for a recent adulthood graduand that he can be so excited about voting. If he has been practising his democratic right to vote, then he surely has several voting experiences to tell tales about.
But I understand him. He is one of the eleven million "election-madmen" in this part of Southern Africa. The whole of Zimbabwe is abuzz with the word election you would think the country is scoring a first in that area. Yet we have been voting all these past years.
Yes, March 29, the much hyped about harmonized election day is finally upon us.
Although we will be casting ballots in four categories – presidential, parliamentary, senatorial and local government – it is the presidentail race that people are most interested in. When they say " I will vote,vote,vote and vote," they deliberately give the impression they will be given numerous chances to cast ballot papers in that one category yet the four ballots they will get will be cast in different categories. But they also know it, the excitement is just part of an election current, which has gripped everyone in the country, including old and young, registered voters and non-voters alike. You would think the whole population was eligible to vote, yet about 5,5 million only will do the X-job.
Almost all the logistics are in place now, what remains is for God to bring March 29. Some are even saying they wish the day's arrival will be fast-tracked. More like President Robert Mugabe's infamous fast-track land reform program which threw the country into its current economic abyss. But again,t hat is just one of the many ways the electorate is using to express its mounting anxiety.
The election administrator, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has since published the longest list of candidates to ever participate in Zimbabwe's polls. In the presidential race, President Mugabe will battle it out with former labour leader and opposition Movement for Democratic Change founder Morgan Tsvangirai, his former finance minister and politburo member Dr Simba Makoni and an obscure independent candidate Langton Toungana. There are 779 candidates for the 210 parliamentary seats and 197 for the 60 elected seats in the senate. Candidates are drawn from a pack of 12 political parties and 116 independents – a real first for a country which is used to a three party race, dotted by not more than 10 independent contestants. Although analysts have said a myriad of candidates and political identities might confuse voters, the electorate donot seem to be that bothered as they continue chanting their "we will vote" slogan. It has emerged most intend to use the three names of Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Makoni as poll guides. Some independents will probably survive by luck as voters "throw away" their vote after failing to find the preffered names since the three dominant candidates are not represented in every constituency.
Still on the logistics, President Mugabe has since declared Saturday a public holiday to enable all workers to practise their democratic right in the box. Representatives of the 47 invited observer teams, including the African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (SADC), China, Russia and Iran continue to arrive in droves.All these are in good relations with Mugabe hence the invitation. European Union members and the United States were not invited ostensibly to punish them for trying to stage an alleged illegal regime change against Mugabe.
But as we go to the polls,it is still very difficult to predict a result.
Those who sympathise with the people of Zimbabwe will be happy to hear that the country's electorate goes to the polls an enlightened people. Although voter education this year was not as much as that in preceding elections, people's experiences in a difficult economic and political environment has emerged the greatest election educator of all times. In some rallies,you would see people walking away in protest to candidates' speech. Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) has fallen victim to this voter apathy several times. Even in rural constituencies,the party's traditional strongholds, people have shown that they want to hear more about Mugabe's economic revival plan than the party's usual tendency to recite sad tales of the liberation struggle while also delivering long sermons about national sovereignty and black empowerment.
Just this day, I was laughing with a friend as we read about some arrests during the campaign period. In one case,a police detective (part of Mugabe's notorious gang), was arrested on allegations of insulting a Zanu- PF worker for wearing the party's regalia in public. State media reported that the detective poked his finger at Mugabe's picture emblazoned on the worker's dress and advised his victim against going about exhibiting clothes of a party which has brought hunger to the people. Reports say the detective even suggested the worker should wear an MDC shirt instead.
But that does not clearly tip the election to MDC's favour. Just like Mugabe and Makoni, MDC leader Tsvangirai enjoys a huge-turnout at his rallies. But he is yet to woo back some of the supporters he lost on his failure to reconcile with academic Authur Mutambara who leads a break-away faction of the party. Yet that again does not tip the race to Makoni's favour either. On rebelling against Mugabe, it was rumoured Makoni had the backing of so-called big-wigs from Mugabe's party and the electorate rode on that string. Some of the alleged backers have since denounced the rumour in state media while Makoni himself has of late changed his line and said he has no big-wigs. However,even with a few hours remaining to election time,many people are still optimistic the former finance minister will announce his big-wigs even on the eleventh hour. It thus cannot be ruled out that his magnet may disappear should voters go into the booths without hearing the anticipated names.
Another area of speculation has been the after-election period, or the results announcement to be precise. While Mugabe has since warned that voting for the opposition will be a waste of votes as his party will not allow it to rule the country even if it wins, the MDC has said it has some contingency plan to deal with Mugabe should he steal the election. Such statements have raised fears of a replica of the infamous Kenya political turbulence following a disputed election result recently. But some Zimbabweans,especially in the Matabeleland and Midlands Provinces have vowed they will never participate in such type of violence following horrible experiences from 1982 – 1988 political atrocities, which saw Mugabe's Fifth Brigade wiping away more than 20 000 people in those areas in a so-called Gukurahundi. But it remains to be seen, especially given the fact that partaking in such unfortunate occurences is never negotiated.
But Zimbabweans are generally ecstatic ahead of the big day. What with some of them declaring March 29 Independence Day? And others coining yet another new saying, "There will be a new president for Zimbabwe, and a new speech on Independence Day come April 18". The day in question, April 18, is Zimbabwe's independence day and by convention, Mugabe addresses the nation. Over the years, his rhetoric on the day has remained almost the same – ranging from lines of sovereignty to paragraphs of blame on the West.