Though the result of Monday’s election in Zimbabwe will not be known before another week, it is pretty obvious that the country is at the crossroads. The paradox is exceptional. Given the political turmoil, it is by any reckoning an extraordinary election.

Robert Mugabe has jettisoned his party, Zanu-PF, and the current President, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Going by his statement in Harare on Sunday ~ the first after being ousted by the military last November ~, the 94-year-old former dictator has switched sides with chameleonesque rhapsody.

He has let it be known that he will vote for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe’s biggest Opposition party, and its candidate, 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa. It is essentially a contest between President Mnangagwa and the Opposition leader, Chamisa. The verdict remains ever so uncertain, rendering this week’s election almost a historic exercise.

The former autocrat’s decision not to back the party he led to victory in Zimbabwe’s independence war and for 37 years as President is the latest twist in an extraordinary election that will determine the former British colony’s future for decades. The manner in which his intervention will influence the election can only be speculated upon.

Mugabe’s call to vote out what he described as an “unconstitutional and illegal” government may win over some voters, but put off others. There is little doubt that he has come through as a renegade and not the least in the perception of a section of voters. Close to 40 years after Zimbabwe won freedom (1980), the increasingly fractious nature of the State was palpable even before the first vote was cast on Monday.

There is at this juncture a sharp division between the Zanu-PF and the Opposition, a decidedly unfortunate denouement for a country that had once unitedly launched a brutal struggle against white domination. Mugabe has described his ouster in November as a coup, accusing the military of suppressing democracy.

He has claimed on the eve of the elections that his own rule was legitimate because he held elections every five years. Clearly, there is a pronounced distinction between the military and civilian dispensations, indeed a widening rift that has denuded the liberation struggle embedded in the colour of one’s skin.

“These tanks that roared across the country, whom were they fighting? Who was the enemy? We were fighting ourselves. The army has turned against the very people they fought for. I say ‘no’,” was Mugabe’s stirring call to the people before they are headed for the polling booths. At the ripe age of 94, Robert Mugabe is still central to the political life of Zimbabwe ~ a fact that transcends the joust within, indeed a rather different struggle between personalities.