ZIMBABWEâ€™S electorate protested angrily against last Fridayâ€™s presidential election run-off and President Robert Mugabeâ€™s government as shown by an extraordinarily high number of spoilt ballots, some carrying insulting messages.
The run-off “won” by Mugabe was characterised by a poor voter turnout in urban areas, where the most spoilt ballots were recorded.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, withdrew from the race against Mugabe citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters, but the countryâ€™s electoral authorities went ahead with the poll. The election drew extensive condemnation regionally and internationally.
In the first round of the presidential election on March 29, Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe, but failed to attain the required 50% plus votes to assume Zimbabweâ€™s presidency.
Tsvangirai polled 1 195 562 votes against Mugabeâ€™s 1 079 730, but last Friday the opposition leader got a paltry 233 000 votes to the 84-year-old former guerilla leaderâ€™s 2 150 269.
There were 39 975 spoilt ballots in March, but last weekâ€™s run-off saw the number increasing to 131 481, a move political analysts described as unusual.
Harare had the highest number of spoilt ballots — 36 446, Midlands came second with 19 438, Manicaland 17 525, Mashonaland West 10 821, Matabeleland North 9 907 and Masvingo 9 740.
Bulawayo recorded 9 166 spoilt ballots, Mashonaland East 7 675, Matabeleland south 7 353 and Mashonaland Central the lowest 3 409.
The protest was also seen in the drastic drop in Tsvangiraiâ€™s votes in some of the provinces in which he performed well in the March election.
In Mashonaland West, Tsvangirai in March had 107 345 votes, but last week went down to 18 459, while in Mashonaland East he got 4 066 from the 119 661 he garnered in the first round.
In Harare, Tsvangirai had 220 160 votes in March, but this time he got 48 307, while in Manicaland where he previously won with 212 029 votes, last Friday he managed to get only 29 561 votes.
In Bulawayo, 43 584 people voted and there were 9 166 spoilt ballots compared to 551 spoilt papers when 97 236 voters took part in the polls in March.
Election observers were perturbed by the number of spoilt ballots and some of the messages that were scribbled on the papers.
Marwick Khumalo, the leader of the Pan-African Parliamentâ€™s observer mission, said some of the spoilt ballots had “unpalatable messages”.
Presiding officers who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent this week said most of the spoilt ballots had explicitly insulting messages written instead of the cross that marks the vote.
The presiding officers said in some instances voters crossed the boxes for both Mugabe and Tsvangirai and added a message that the two should govern the country together.
“There were too many spoilt papers in the constituencies, especially in Mpopoma (Bulawayo) where people were voting in a by-election,” one of the polling officers said. “Some of the people voted in the House of Assembly by-election but when it came to the presidential election they decided to express their feelings by writing messages about what they felt about the candidates. Most of the hate messages were directed at Mugabe.”
The polling officials said some of the common messages on the spoilt ballot boxes were â€˜Mugabe you must goâ€™, â€˜Please stop the violence, we do not want youâ€™, â€˜Go back to Zvimbaâ€™, â€˜Go hangâ€™ while some were obscene and derogatory.”
Another polling official who was stationed in Pelandaba/Mpopoma said in some instances voters took time to draw horns and features on Mugabeâ€™s face.
“It was interesting to note that Zimbabweans are very artistic people,” he said. “Mugabeâ€™s picture on the ballot had horns added to his face while his moustache was heavily shaded for him to appear like Hitler. The people really expressed their anger on the ballot paper.”
Political analysts have attributed the high number of spoilt ballots to a protest vote by Zimbabweans who were angered at Tsvangiraiâ€™s withdrawal from the run-off.
NCA chairman Lovemore Madhuku said the spoilt ballots could be explained in two ways â€” a protest against Mugabe or against Tsvangiraiâ€™s pull out.
“The first category is that of those people who were forced to go and vote for Zanu PF following the violence and intimidation they experienced before the runoff,” Madhuku said. “They used their ballot papers as a way of protesting against Zanu PFâ€™s intimidation. It was an act of resistance that they said â€˜I am not going to give you my voteâ€™.”
He added: “The other category is that of those who did not agree with Tsvangiraiâ€™s idea to pull out. They were unhappy with the decision and decided to just spoil the ballots.”
Prior to the run-off the MDC claimed that over 85 of its supporters had been killed, 10 000 injured and more than 200 000 internally displaced by political violence allegedly perpetrated by state security agents, Zanu PF militia and war veterans.
By Wongai Zhangazha/Loughty Dube