Long time leader and deposed president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe pulled a shocker yesterday when he, at a dramatic last minute press conference, endorsed his long time rival of the Movement for Democratic Change, Nelson Chamisa who is vying for the country’s highest office in elections scheduled to take place today.
Chamisa is leading a coalition of political parties dubbed the MDC Alliance and has jumped headlong into the election inspite of an uneven playing field given that fundamental electoral reforms had not been realised.
There has also been an outcry in the opposition camp on how the country’s vote counting body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), has refused to budge to demands for a disclosure of the voter’s roll as well as to give parties a chance to fully see how the ballot paper was being printed.
Suspicion is rife that ZEC has been captured by the old-time ruling party inspite of the incumbent president saying it is independent and urging the aggrieved to head to the courts and iron out grievances.
True to the old saying that in politics there are no permanent friends and enemies but common interests, Mugabe came out to downplay his long time comrade, the incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power last year November in a coup d’état with the help of the opposition.
Mugabe who never acknowledged Mnangagwa as president said yesterday that the other presidential hopefuls in the country’s campaign trail did not offer much to the Zimbabwean electorate before endorsing the 40 year-old Chamisa.
Mugabe’s loyalists also flocked to Chamisa’s final star rally over the weekend which drew crowds at Freedom Square eclipsing Mnangagwa’s rally which was also taking place a few Kilometers away at the national sports stadium.
The endorsement is thought to give the Alliance a mega boost in votes and wrestle power for the first time since 1999.
“I can’t vote for Zanu PF, I can’t! I will choose from the other 22 parties. I can’t vote for Mai Mujuru and Mai Khupe because they don’t offer very much. There is Chamisa left,” said the nonagenarian at the widely publicised presser at his Blue Roof mansion the capital Harare.
He also added, “I have not met MDC Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa to discuss a so called electoral pact. But I hope to see Chamisa if he wins in tomorrow’s general election.”
Mugabe also said that he hoped the voting will “reform” and “will thrash away military form of government and bring us back to constitutionality.”
These utterances fell on a “surprised” citizenry that ahs for 38 years known a leader whose presidency was marked by gross violations of human rights and a breach of the constitution.
It is not clear how big a harm this sudden but ironic-combination will inflict on Mnangagwa but he has also suffered elements from within whom he openly warned for plotting to impeach him in the event that he wins.
Some of his party’s big wigs are also running as independent candidates having openly denounced his presidency calling for “Bhora Musango”, a political term that means to deliberately kick the ball off the pitch, instead of scoring it, or in other words to give the vote to someone else other than Zanu PF or spoiling the ballots altogether.
The endorsement has drawn mixed reactions with some analysts arguing that the Zanu PF iron-man is resorting to old tactics of playing his enemies against each other and scoring political victories.
Meanwhile, Chamisa has been running without a deputy president and speculation is rife that Mugabe and his wife may find a chance to rise via the backdoor to the helm of the country’s political leadership.
Mnangagwa’s support base comes mainly from Zanu PF loyalists that had grown increasingly tired of Mugabe’s unbroken tyrannical rule which had brought a chaotic land reform that plunged the country into an economic disaster resulting in many fleeing to other countries.
He has also managed to successfully rebrand the old party, embraced social media, engaging citizens on the mantra of “Zimbabwe is open for business” and has won to himself the White and Indian community which had been driven either to the peripheries or into the arms of MDC due to Mugabe’s anti-white rhetoric.
He has been regarded as a survivor all the way from being poisoned with ice-cream, being fired as VP, fleeing the country in a huff with the climax being a botched assassination attempt on his life recently at a rally when a grenade almost cost his life and killed two.
Mnangagwa is regarded as a practical, matured leader with experience in running state affairs and has as of late managed to put to paper some mega-deals.
He has canvassed the support of youthful voters who have rallied behind the “EDhasmyvote” hashtag.
What do the numbers say?
Mnangagwa was tipped to be on the lead attracting 42% of votes compared to 31% for the MDC Alliance, while the intentions of 25% of the respondents were unknown, in an April/May Afrobarometer poll survey.
By July, the survey showed that the Alliance had gained ground to 37% with Zanu PF at 40% while 20% of the respondents where not clear on their choice, making it a tight race.
Another opinion poll by an obscure lobby group, the Pan-African Forum Limited (PAFL) said that Mnangagwa would win 70% of the vote and Chamisa would only win 24%.
Political consultant and social media host for The Lumumba Files, William Gerald Mutumanje aka Acie Lumumba claimed that the MDC at its best has 1.2 million votes while Zanu PF boasts 2.2 million.
“So let’s assume that MDC is as strong as they have ever been with 1.2 million and Zanu PF as strong as they have ever been with 2.2 million, it takes MDC gaining a million votes just to catch up with Zanu PF,” he said.
As Zimbabweans are anticipated to flock into voting queues this morning, it is game on for a country that has to play catch-up with the rest of the world as far as economic growth is concerned, after decades of strife.