HARARE (AFP) – Zimbabweans cast their ballots yesterday in the country’s first election since authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe was ousted last year, with concerns over fraud and the likelihood of a disputed result clouding voting day.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mr Mugabe’s former ally in the ruling ZANU-PF party, faces opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) in a historic vote for the southern African nation.
Long lines formed from early morning outside polling stations in the capital Harare.
Mr Mugabe, 94, who was ousted by the military in November, made a surprise intervention on election eve, calling for voters to throw ZANU-PF out of office.
Zimbabwe’s generals shocked the world last year when they seized control and ushered Mnangagwa to power after Mr Mugabe allegedly tried to position his wife Grace to be his successor.
Mr Mnangagwa, 75, who has promised a fresh start for the country despite being from the ZANU-PF elite, is the front-runner with the advantage of covert military support, a loyal state media and a ruling party that controls government resources.
But Mr Chamisa, 40, who has performed strongly on the campaign trail, hopes to tap into a young population that could vote for change.
“I have no doubt that by the end of the day today we should be very clear as to an emphatic voice for change, the new, and the young – I represent that,” Mr Chamisa said as he voted in Harare.
He again raised fraud allegations, saying “in the rural areas… if the ballot is a genuine one, not a fake one, victory is certain.”
The election is Zimbabwe’s first without Mr Mugabe, who led ZANU-PF to power in a vote when the country became independent from Britain in 1980 and ruled for 37 years.
Speaking at his mansion on Sunday, Mr Mugabe said he hoped the election would “thrust away the military form of government.”
“I cannot vote for those who tormented me,” Mr Mugabe said, hinting he could vote for MDC.
With 5.6 million registered voters, the results of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections are due by August 4.
A run-off vote is scheduled for September 8 if no presidential candidate wins at least 50 percent in the first round.