Zimbabwe goes to the polls tomorrow morning, with polling stations opening at 7am and scheduled to close 12 hours later, at 7pm.
For all accounts and purposes, this will be a record-breaking election: the first election since one-man, one-vote was granted at Lancaster House in 1979 that Mr Robert Mugabe will not feature on the ballot paper; the first election since 2000 that will not have both Mr Mugabe and Mr Morgan Tsvangirai on the ballot paper.
Mr Tsvangirai passed away in February this year after a protracted fight with colon cancer.
It is an election that will be remembered for a record number of presidential candidates — 23. However, one candidate announced his withdrawal last week, although ZEC Commissioner Dr Qubani Moyo said it was too late for such a move since the ballot papers had already been printed.
The same goes for the political parties, a record number of them — 133 — will be contesting the vote.
The high number of candidates and parties points to the opening up of democratic space in the country, which has been a result of the peace pipe that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been smoking ever since his inauguration last November.
President Mnangagwa replaced Mr Mugabe, who resigned on November 21 to avoid impeachment in Parliament. In the weekend preceding the impeachment motion, thousands of Zimbabweans had filled the streets across the country to demonstrate against his continued rule.
The opening up of the democratic space has seen 246 independent parliamentary candidates who are going to contest for 210 seats across the 10 political provinces. This works out to an average of 1,17 independent candidates per constituency.
Mbizo in Kwekwe has the highest number of independent candidates in a single constituency, with seven of them eyeing the seat. But they will have to fight off six other candidates drawn from various parties.
Harare has the highest number of independent candidates, with 64 vying for the House of Assembly without the backing of a party. Manicaland comes second, with 31 independent candidates and Mashonaland West, with 30, comes third.
The “most disciplined” province is Matabeleland South, which only has eight independent candidates across its 13 constituencies. The second most disciplined is Mashonaland Central, which has nine independent candidates, with Matabeleland coming in third with 12 independents.
The primary elections for the two leading political parties, the ruling Zanu-PF and the coalition of opposition parties competing as the MDC Alliance were hotly contested, which has given rise to the number of independent candidates.
Those who felt cheated in the primary elections opted to stand as independent candidates. Zanu-PF was quick to point out that those who opted to stand as independents would have automatically expelled themselves from the party.
However, the fallout from the primaries might hit the MDC Alliance the most as the coalition has double-fielded candidates in 14 constituencies, to include a number of their candidates standing in as independents as well.
The constituencies in which the Alliance has double-fielded are Bulawayo South, Harare South, Mabvuku/Tafara, Mazowe North, South and West, Muzarabani North, Goromonzi West, Bikita East, Gutu Central, North and West, Masvingo South and Zaka West.
Besides splitting the votes in the above constituencies, the MDC Alliance, which is the main rival to Zanu-PF, has failed to field candidates in five constituencies: Hurungwe East, Chiredzi East and North, Mbare and Insiza North.
With 133 parties having successfully filed papers for run for either the Presidential, House of Assembly or council seats, it is interesting to note that there are four constituencies where only two parties will be contesting the parliamentary seats. These are Mudzi South and West, Uzumba and Chiredzi East.
In eight more constituencies, only three parties will be contesting the House of Assembly seats. These are Mutoko East and North, Chiredzi North, Mberengwa North, Muzarabani South, Marondera East, Gokwe Nembudziya and Zvishavane Runde.
Curiously, Bulawayo province has the leading concentration of candidates per constituency. The top constituency is Magwegwe, Bulawayo, where 22 candidates are vying for the parliamentary seat. In second place is Pumula with 21 candidates. On third place is Bulawayo Central with 19 candidates.
Whilst 5,6 million people having registered to vote, of which about 53 percent are women, only 241 female candidates found the stamina to stand in the parliamentary fights.
The 241 women represent 14,4 percent of the 1 644 total number of candidates for all the 210 constituencies.
Mashonaland Central and Masvingo provinces have the least number of female candidates, with 11 each, followed closely by Matabeleland North which has 13. Harare provides the highest number — with 82 women seeking the right to be in Parliament. The next highest number is in Bulawayo, which has 37, with Manicaland tagging just behind with 22 female candidates.
Predictably, Harare has the highest number of aspirants per province, with 319 seeking to win the 30 seats available in the province, which works out to an average of 10,6 candidates per constituency. Bulawayo is the second highest power-hungry province, with 203 candidates vying for the 12 seats in the province, working out to an average of 16,9 candidates per constituency.
Mashonaland Central and Matabeleland South have the least craving for power, with each province having 99 candidates vying for Parliament.
The opening up of democratic space in the political arena has even filtered through to the family unit where David Chimhini and his son George are contesting for different parties. Whilst the father is standing for the MDC Alliance in Mutasa North, the son is vying for the Dzivaresekwa seat on a Zanu-PF ticket. In the council elections, the ruling Zanu-PF bagged 46 council uncontested after the closing of the nomination court of June 14. This will leave 1 912 out of the 1 958 council seats to be fought for tomorrow.
Thirteen of these seats are in Mashonaland Central, nine in Mashonaland East, four in Matabeleland South and one in Matabeleland North.
After the closing of polling tomorrow evening, the tallying and collation of results begins. The most anticipated vote, of which 23 candidates are vying for President, the nation — and the world at large — will get to know the result by Saturday at the latest, according to the guidelines provided by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, who have said that they will release Presidentail results within five days.
The results for ward councillor are declared at the ward command centre while those for the constituency will be declared at the constituency command centre with the Presidential votes being tallied and announced at the national command centre.
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