After the huff and puff of recent months, Zimbabwe's unified elections are due on 29 March, and the opposition is not staging a boycott as it threatened. And, as Mabasa Sasa from Harare reports, there is even a "new" face on the cards, Dr Simba Makoni, a "dissident" from the ruling Zanu PF party who is running against his former boss, President Robert Mugabe.
With polls to elect a president, parliamentarians and local government councillors due at the end of this month, Zimbabwe's political landscape could not be any more intriguing. Perhaps the most sensational news in the run-up to what will be a make-or-break vote for opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Professor Arthur Mutambara, is the announcement by Dr Simba Makoni (a chemistry PhD) that he would be challenging President Robert Mugabe for the top job.
A former finance minister and member of the supreme decision-making body of the ruling Zanu PF party, Dr Makoni's candidature has been viewed by many as an indicator of an internal revolt in Zanu PF. Makoni has said he would not be launching a new party and would campaign using a Zanu PF platform after putting himself forward as "another" ruling party candidate.
His campaign has already had a rude introduction to the world of real politik as the local media has been awash with reports and editorials questioning his credentials, motives and--of course--his history.
For years, Makoni has been a darling of business and the right-leaning press. There are doubts, however, over his marketability to the majority rural electorate who have traditionally identified with President Mugabe's pro-poor policies.
The ever media-shy Makoni has strangely retreated further into a shell of sorts since making his announcement at the start of February, and the media have so far been frustrated in their efforts to get him to comment on a number of issues.
These include his tenure as chief of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), his reign as head of Zimbabwe's largest newspaper publishing house, Zimpapers, and his departure from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
Though it is not yet clear who exactly is behind him, Dr Ibbo Mandaza, an academic, and the retired Major Kudzai Mbudzi (who was booted out of Zanu PF for going against a key party directive) have openly stood by Dr Makoni.
Prof. Jonathan Moyo, a former information minister who was ironically also sacked from the ruling party for deciding to enter an election race as an independent, is also in the set-up. Dr Mandaza confirmed as much when saying Prof Moyo had been "consulted in some capacity".
It is also believed that a number of business personalities, some Zanu PF members and a group of Western diplomats, are backing Makoni from behind the scenes.
Interestingly, the two factions of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party have distanced themselves from the Makoni bid, though informants claim that there is a high level of consultation taking place, particularly with Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main MDC faction who has been beaten twice at the polls by President Mugabe in the last eight years.
However, Tsvangirai has said: "Dr Makoni has been part of the establishment for the last 30 years and has witnessed our country deteriorate to this unprecedented level. He is equally accountable as Robert Mugabe for the omissions of Zanu PF. I believe that what Dr Makoni is trying to do is to reform an institutionalised dictatorship. That is not my agenda. I am the leader of the MDC ... Dr Makoni is nothing more than old wine in a new bottle. We are divided on fundamental differences ... I have high respect for him [but] he says he is still Zanu PF. That's the difference."
But Zanu PF has said Makoni is no longer a member of the party after deciding to run against Mugabe who was unanimously endorsed by the party as its presidential candidate at an extraordinary congress in December. …