The Countdown to the Zimbabwe elections, marked for March 29, 2008, is on. Zimbabweans are getting prepared to hit the polls to elect a president out of four candidates, namely, Simba Makoni who stands as an independent, Morgan Tsvangirai standing for the main opposition MDC, veteran Robert Mugabe for ZANU-PF and last (but least?), Langton Toungana, also running as an independent candidate. International observers say, the polls, held against a backdrop of unprecedented economic hardships, would be a three-horse race between Mugabe, Makoni and Tsvangirai.
Below are short presentations of the men who will be making international headlines on March 29, 2008.
Simba Makoni, 57, studied in Britain and obtained a BSc and later a PhD at Leeds University. He was appointed deputy minister of Agriculture at age 30. This former executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community was appointed Finance minister by Mugabe who later sent him packing due to differences in economic policies. His formal announcement on the 5th of February as a Mugabe challenger saw his expulsion from the ZANU-PF party of which he had been member since his university days. He has the backing of a number of high profile politicians including the multi-arrested-Mutambara, head of a break away faction of MDC the main opposition party. Makoni who stands to enjoy a substantial part of the split votes from the ZANU-PF is expected to take home a significant number of votes from the MDC party as well due to his present affiliation with Mutambara.
Morgan Tsvangirai, 56, Main opposition figure in Zimbabwe of the Movement for Democratic Change created in 1999, was a force to reckon with during his years as head of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. In 2000, his newly formed party successfully contested and won a referendum against the government on constitutional reforms. His party, although not successful in winning the questionable 2002 elections, got 43% of the total votes against 57% for Mugabe (a defeat for Mugabe nonetheless considering that he usually got 90% of the total votes). Tsvangirai has been arrested several times with charges including treason, whilst assassination attempts have been made on his life and was nearly killed in 2007, when he was arrested a day after his birthday and brutally tortured by the police. Tsvangirai espouses similar policies to Makoni’s, and also has strong urban support among the poor. Tsvangirai’s position as a main opposition candidate might suffer a blow from Makoni’s endorsement by Mutambara.
Langton Toungana, is little known to both local and international media and is suspected to have been fielded by the establishment to help split the opposition vote, and validate the poll after earlier opposition threats to boycott the election over demands for electoral reforms and new constitution. He would have oiled Mugabe’s way into another victory had the boycott been effective. The question now is; is he still a necessary pawn after Makoni’s candidature?
Robert Mugabe, is a local politician who has been in power since his country’s independence from the British in 1980. The 84 year old is known to have obtained over 90% of the total votes until 2002 (refer to Morgan Tsvangirai’s profile). “Comrade Bob” as he is called by some has attracted sanctions from the international community and has singlehandedly raised Zimbabwe’s inflation rate to a staggering 66,000% and still counting. His popularity as a founding father of Zimbabwe has suffered a serious backlash from both the local and international communities for his abusive policies. If re-elected, Zimbabwe (once a breadbasket of the subregion, now a basket case) will continue to suffer under sanctions from the international community which have contributed to the country’s 66,000% hyperinflation rate and an unemployment rate of about 85%. “Comrade Bob” is capable of everything, even winning.