Polling has closed in Zimbabwe’s presidential election, with the nation’s 5 million voters considering 23 candidates. The likely choice comes down to two men but notably absent is ousted leader Robert Mugabe.
Age in the form of 75-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa took on relative youth in 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa as the leading candidates for Zimbabwe’s presidential election, which got underway on Monday at 7 a.m. local time (0500 UTC).
In all, there were 23 candidates — and none of them was the 94-year-old former president Robert Mugabe who came to power in 1980 and was obliged to leave it last November after a military coup.
Mugabe’s long-term ally in the ruling ZANU-PF party, Emmerson Mnangagwa, known for his political style as the Crocodile, took over. He promised reforms and an economic recovery.
Mnangagwa told reporters on Monday that he is committed to a Zimbabwe in which people have the “freedom to express their views, negative or positive.” He urged the country to remain peaceful during the landmark vote.
Mugabe, flanked by scores of chanting supporters, voted in the country’s first election without his name on the ballot. The former president said on Sunday he would not be voting for the ruling ZANU-PF party he founded. He hinted he would be backing Mnangagwa’s rival, Chamisa.
Attempt to ‘suppress and frustrate’
Head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Chamisa is a lawyer and pastor appealing to young and unemployed voters. They are seeking a change after forty years of ZANU-PF rule.
After casting his vote, Chamisa said there was a deliberate attempt to “suppress and frustrate” the vote in urban areas where the MDC has strong support. He also said that, in the absence of vote rigging in rural regions, his party would win the election. His comments suggest that in the event of a Mnangagwa victory he will likely challenge the result.
The head of the EU Observer mission in Zimbabwe, Elmar Brok, told DW that it was too early to say whether any irregularities had taken place.
“We have to see that the preparation was much freer, the atmosphere was much freer than in the past. So that is a bit of progress. But (whether) there’s no cheating we do not know,” he said. “Because what has happened with the printing of the ballot sheets and the voters’ lists between printing and today? Are they the same? We have certain doubts because of the history, because of the cheating by the present government and the opposition.”
Brok later told reporters the vote was “very smooth” in some places and “totally disorganized” in others. He said many voters, particularly young women, left voting queues in frustration at long delays.
About 5.5 million people were registered to vote with more than 20 presidential candidates and nearly 130 political parties in the fray.
If no presidential candidate wins more than half of the votes, a second round run-off will be held on September 8.
ap, jm/bw (AFP, Reuters)