"Freeing a nation from a tyrant's grip"

When former US secretary of state, Colin Powell, wrote an article under this title back in 2003 one could not have missed the sense of foreboding in the air about what another term of office for President Robert Mugabe portended for Zimbabwe. And sure enough, roughly a year and half later, a fleet of bulldozers was brazenly knocking down people's homes in the country's cities under a government-sanctioned clean-up operation. Infamously named Operation Murambatsvina, the clean-up exercise created hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and put an end to the livelihoods of well over a million.

The economy has since hobbled into the doldrums in the years since Mugabe's 2002 re-election. Every social indicator has dipped, reflecting the sordid quality of life Zimbabweans are having to endure.

Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is faced with yet another meangless election tomorrow. Meaningless in the sense that it is only a mere charade, a political ritual in whose often violent rhythm Mugabe chooses to clothe his iron-grip on power. There's no doubting the enthusiasm of Zimbabweans to participate in the electoral process. However, the overwhelming feeling one gets is that Mugabe and Zanu PF only tolerate this exercise both for its futility as an agent of political change and its perceived value as a source of legitimacy.

Otherwise, as the service chiefs have made clear on the eve of the polls, power contests in Zimbabwe are not adjucated through elections. The generals have repeated their infamous 2002 threat to not recognise anyone other than Robert Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe. As if to put it beyond doubt, Mugabe himself told a hapless Matabeleland rally recently that voting for the opposition was a waste of votes because he would never allow the MDC to rule the country.

It does not help matters that the opposition itself is riven by factionalism and is going into the polls as a divided front. It is sad that at a time when Mugabe is most vulnerable, he has the luxury of facing a divided opposition vote. The latest opinion poll from Dr Joseph Kurebwa's team at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) gives Mugabe a clear lead with 57 percent of the vote while Tsvangirai and Makoni trail in with 26 percent and 13 percent respectively.

It is interesting to note that the same pollster was spot-on in the last parliamentary election in 2005. This does not necessarily suggest a sound research methodology, as results from an earlier poll by the Mass Public Opinion Institute gave Tsvangirai the edge over Mugabe. There are obvious questions to be raised here about the objectivity of these ostensibly scientific exercises, particularly insofar as their results are so divergent.

And in the cacophony of these polls and counter-polls, coup threats and security clampdowns, one hopes that, somehow, Zimbabweans manage to shake off the tyrant's deathly grip tomorrow.