I didn't vote in 2013. It was never an option in my books. It was the first election that I could vote in. It was supposed to be a proud moment for me, my introduction into being an adult and having the power to decide my country's destiny. I spent election day eating cereal and watching cartoons.
I’m not proud of my decisions in 2013, but at the time, I didn’t believe in the power of my vote. Fast forward four years, and my outlook on life has changed for the better. This time, when 2018 comes around, I intend to vote. It would be criminal of me to deny myself the right to cast my vote, and the realisation that as a citizen, my voice matters. I resolved myself to finding out about the registration process, educating myself on each candidate and deciding who best fulfilled my vision for the president of my country.
As it stands, there are four main names being tossed around in the presidential election: Robert Mugabe (the current president), Morgan Tsvangirai (of the MDC), Joice Mujuru (formerly Zim People First, now from the National People’s Party), and Dr Noah Manyika. Manyika’s introduction in the scene – through a press conference held on 14 March – is yet another chapter to a story that gets more confusing as it develops. While there have been no names officially submitted to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for the presidential election, the list of potential candidates and parties seems to get longer and longer. With the introduction of each new name into the arena, voter confusion grows. So many names, so many parties and so much choice would seem like a good thing for voters, but it makes the question of voting even more complicated.
The urgency of the 2018 elections is not lost on Zimbabwean citizens. Public calls for citizens to register as voters are increasing. Citizen movements such as #ThisFlag have taken it upon themselves to hold weekly live streams on their Facebook page, where they discuss issues concerning Zimbabwean politics in the lead up to the elections. It’s been a rough five years since the 2013 general elections. There’s been the introduction of bond notes and coins, a move which plummeted an already shaky confidence in banks. Activist Itai Dzamara disappeared in 2015, never to be seen or heard from again. Clashes between street vendors and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) have escalated, with images of police officers setting fire to goods, a scene eerily reminiscent of Operation Murambatsvina in 2005. The resurgence of activism with figures such as Linda Masarira, Pastor Evan Mawarire and Sten Zvorwadza has encouraged open discussions on the state of the country, challenging a culture of silence and fear.
The 2018 general elections are an opportunity for Zimbabwe to begin afresh and start to rebuild from the chaos and upheaval of the last two decades. However, in order for this change to be positive and effective, the right leader and party needs to be chosen, and therein lies the conundrum. How do voters choose if they feel that they have no good choices?
It is widely acknowledged that the ruling party, ZANU PF, cannot continue to be in power. However, Zimbabwe’s opposition is in shambles. The MDC, the strongest and most visible opposition party in the country, lost its ground after the 2013 elections, where ZANU PF won two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, as well as the presidency. There are also concerns that Tsvangirai has been the head of MDC for too long (since its inception in 1999), and is preventing a fresh face from leading the party. Zim PF, formed in 2016, has slowly imploded, with Mujuru firing seven of the party’s founders, with the justification that they were planning to overthrow her. She then went on to create her own separate party, the NPP, which recently made headlines when two of its members (Gift Nyandoro and Jealousy Mawarire) got into a fist fight in a Harare hotel. Manyika’s Build Zimbabwe Alliance was only created this year, and Simba Makoni’s party – Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn – only seems to step on to the scene just before elections. Talks to form a unified opposition alliance and fielding one candidate (as is what happened in the Gambia) have stalled. In short, the opposition is a hot mess, and with a year to go until it’s time to vote, there does not seem to be any sense of urgency on their part to get organised.
The important question is, with no one candidate standing out from the fold, what option is left for voters? Alex Magaisa, a lawyer and political commentator, believes that it’s vital for citizens to still vote: “You can’t change things if you don’t participate, especially for young people. Their future is at stake, and they’ve been passive actors in Zimbabwe’s politics for too long.” However, he acknowledges that the current state of Zimbabwean politics doesn’t inspire confidence in voters. “The opposition needs to be organised, it needs to rally people together. People are tired of so many opposition voices saying so many different things.” Essentially, if the candidates running for the available positions want to win honestly, they have to inspire voter confidence in their political mandate and their ability to lead a country that’s been stuck in a cycle of crises for decades. Magaisa stresses the need for young Zimbabweans (the 15-35 year-old age demographic makes up approximately half of the country’s population) to register while there is still time, and to take control. After all, in a few years they will be the ones in positions of power.
A lack of confidence in political candidates is indeed an issue that requires serious discussion. As vital as it is for citizens to vote, it is equally important that they vote for the best option, not just the lesser of two evils. As the 2018 general elections get closer, both citizen and politician must seriously reflect on what kind of Zimbabwe they want to vote for and represent. The elections are an excellent opportunity for seasoned voters to exercise their democratic right, and for new voters to join a sacred tradition of civic duty. I will be one of those new voters. It is time to play my role in shaping the future of my country. DM
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