Zimbabweans vote today (Wednesday) with many citizens desperate for change after two decades of relentless economic chaos but sceptical that the ruling Zanu-PF party will allow a credible election or any loosening of its stranglehold on power.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is seeking re-election after a first term during which runaway inflation, currency shortages and sky-high unemployment continued to make life a misery for Zimbabweans, many of whom rely on US dollar remittances from relatives abroad to make ends meet.
The cash-strapped country’s chances of resolving a debt crisis that prevents it from accessing World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans are at stake, as foreign lenders have said a free and fair election is a pre-condition for any meaningful talks on the issue.
Mnangagwa, who took over when longtime strongman Robert Mugabe was toppled in a 2017 military coup, faces 10 other candidates including his main challenger, lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). It is the second contest between the two after Mnangagwa won a closely contested poll in 2018, which the opposition allege was rigged. The country’s constitutional court upheld Mnangagwa’s election.
Polls will open at 7am (0500 GMT) and close at 7pm (1700 GMT). Some 6.6 million people are registered to vote in the nation of about 15 million. Vote-counting will start as soon as polling stations close, and parliamentary results are expected to trickle in over the course of Thursday morning. The presidential result is expected to come later, though well ahead of a five-day deadline.
Political analysts say Zimbabwe’s unending economic maelstrom could tip the contest in favour of the opposition if the election is clean. The local currency has weakened by about 85 per cent since the start of the year and inflation has reached triple digit levels, pushing people further into poverty in a country where only 30 per cent hold formal jobs.
But analysts say Zanu-PF, which has been in power for more than four decades, has an unfair advantage as it wields control over the police and other key institutions.
“The electoral playing field is heavily skewed in favour of the ruling party, which has used state institutions to close the democratic space,” said Africa Risk Consulting, a private firm, in a pre-election note, adding: “Five years into Mnangagwa’s rule, conditions have not changed much from the Mugabe era.”
While the run-up to the election has been largely free from violence, the police routinely ban opposition rallies and arrest opposition supporters using Zimbabwe’s tough public order laws. Zanu-PF and the police deny seeking to influence the outcome.
Zimbabwe has a long history of alleged rigging and disputed polls, some of which turned violent, and there is a high likelihood that the outcome of this election will be challenged.
“I have told the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that what happened in 2018 cannot be repeated. We will not accept a rigged vote,” Chamisa said at his last campaign rally on Monday.
Mnangagwa has repeatedly called for peace and tolerance in his campaign speeches.
“We will deal with those who want to perpetrate violence,” he told supporters on Saturday in Shurugwi, more than 300 km (190 miles) south of Harare.
To win the presidency, a candidate must get more than 50 per cent of the vote. If there is no outright winner, a run-off between the top two candidates will be held on October 2.
Parliamentary and local council candidates only need a simple majority of votes cast.
- A Reuters report