Celebrating democracy on aspirin

HARARE – On Thursday history was made, as for the first time in post-independent Zimbabwe there will be female presidential candidates who  threw their lots against 20 male counterparts in the race to occupy the country’s hottest seat.

And also, for the first time, the presidential plebiscite will have 23 aspirants — making it a heavily congested race with the potential to present huge challenges to the voters as the ballot paper is likely to be expanded to accommodate the candidates.

A lot has been said about the good and bad in the impending national elections, which is not surprising because it’s the silly polling season, but very little has been said about a new feeling among both the candidates and the electorate.

It would be an injustice to continue with this article without giving credit to President Emmerson Mnangagwa for changing the way Zimbabwe conducts its politics.

Mnangagwa has brought a refreshing culture of tolerance among political rivals, allowing disagreements in a civil way while binning violence which had been a permanent feature in the country’s elections since gaining independence from Britain in 1980.

Whichever way one might want to look at the current political mood in the country, there is an inescapable fact that the road to next month’s watershed elections has been littered with acts of maturity and tolerance.

This explains why there is a strong field of presidential aspirants and a huge appetite to vote because, as Zimbabweans, we appear to have finally come to our senses after years of engaging in mindless bloodletting.

While there is generally a reason to celebrate — which should be a surprise to an outsider as voting is an unalienable right to a registered voter — the congested presidential field could present serious challenges on voting day. An expanded or enlarged ballot paper means a voter will take time in the booth trying to settle for their choice and given the interest that this year’s elections have generated, the expected long queues could discourage many if there is slow movement.

It becomes even more difficult as the elections are ward-based, meaning that you cannot choose to vote elsewhere as long as you are in the same constituency but different ward.

Historically, urban areas, which incidentally are the opposition stronghold, have had long serpentine queues.

This year it is not likely to be any different.

But this is not a suggestion that those who are in the rural areas, which are traditionally Zanu PF strongholds, would have it easy.

The challenges there could be worse for the elderly who might end up needing assistance to vote, a culture which tarred previous elections as losing opponents found this to be a source of cheating by the ruling party.

High number of assisted voters has always been recorded in the rural areas and while it is not a suggestion that this could happen again, there is likely to be a reasonable number of people who could struggle in choosing their preferred candidates.

This is why political parties need to spend time educating voters in their constituencies as the election is likely to be won or lost at the last minute in the booth.

A number of people have suggested to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to list names of the presidential candidates in alphabetical order, but I am not sure if this will help.

There is a huge chunk of undecided voters who may end up voting impulsively and that is not something any serious candidate would want to bank on. That is why there is a lot at stake in this year’s elections. The newly-found way of disagreeing with civility and a new culture of peaceful voting brought by Mnangagwa and his government deserve praise.

However, it must be known that in the end, there is always a price to pay.

That’s what democracy brings!

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