Sometime last month, council elections were held for the European parliament and somehow I found myself on the voter’s register.
I have no interest whatsoever in the European parliament and I have no vested interest in European affairs – except that I don’t like UKIP – but I found myself quite interested in voting. A combination of adventure and curiosity overwhelmed me and like an invisible magnet pulled me to the voting booth.
What? I have only been in this country for a little under a year, I am only here temporarily and I have not made any move to stay here any longer than I am supposed to, but I am eligible to vote.
The registration process is still a blur to me, I received a knock one day on my door and I was told it was important I register. The mysterious man at the door held a card that bore my name and those of my British and Pakistani housemates. My Chinese housemate was not included, no idea why, didn’t ask.
I assumed the institution I am attending forwarded our names and passport numbers to the local council. I paid no regard to the card until a couple of weeks later, when I received another card, this time telling me I was a registered voter and where I should vote.
I still wasn’t convinced that voting could be this easy. Armed with my passport and the registration card I walked to the polling station.
I hesitated at the entrance. No police, at a polling station? The Zimbabwean in me could not comprehend this. Everything seemed orderly, there were a few people in front of me and I waited my turn. When I got to the front of the queue, I was asked which road I lived on and I was directed to another table.
A very cordial man asked me for my name – I have since given up on telling people my name, 99% of the world probably can’t pronounce it – I gave him the registration card, he ticked off my name from a list he had and proceeded to give me a ballot paper.
Wait, this guy didn’t even ask for my ID, are these people normal? This couldn’t be normal, to me, the Zimbabwean, everything was wrong with this process. Aren’t we supposed to produce proof of identity like we do back home?
Still mesmerised, I took the ballot paper and cast my ballot in a wooden box? Wooden box, my word what are these people smoking? Aren’t election boxes supposed to be transparent or translucent or whatever to prevent the stuffing of ballots in those boxes? Oh did I mention that my finger wasn’t dipped in some copious indelible ink to make sure I didn’t vote again?
Within five minutes I was out of the voting station, more confused than before I went in.
All I have known in my life are acrimonious elections and electoral processes, mean police guarding polling stations, impatient civil servants, who just want you to vote and get out and government spooks, who are supposed to blend in seamlessly, but stick out awkwardly like a sore thumb.
Elections in Zimbabwe are usually a chaotic process, where you hear stories about people being turned away after turning up at wrong polling stations or not being on the voter’s register, here everything seemed so perfectly coherent. I can’t get used to this, I have become accustomed to our chaos. The process here was so smooth it felt wrong.
I am in awe of the way the elections were conducted in the UK. I am not saying the British system is the best, it probably has more problems than I would care to know, but it is a far cry from the shambles and chaos that have become a permanent fixture in Zimbabwean elections.
If we could just copy at least half of what they do here, our electoral process, from registration to the actual announcing of results, would be far much better and less contentious than it is at the moment.
When someone speaks or writes broken English, in Zimbabwe we excuse that person and it’s not their fault as English came on a boat. I am tempted to say democracy also came on a boat and unfortunately some of it spilled into the ocean resulting in our flawed systems.