Zimbabweans are going to the polls to pick a new president from a list which, for the first time in nearly four decades, does not include the name of Robert Mugabe.
The long-time ex-leader was ousted in a bloodless military takeover nine months ago.
Polls opened on Monday morning in the southern African nation for presidential, parliamentary and local elections. Voters are directly choosing a president, 210 members of parliament and more than 9,000 councilors.
Vote tallying and counting will start immediately after the closure of the polls.
Results of the presidential race will be announced at the Electoral Commission’s headquarters in the capital Harare within five days.
A candidate needs to acquire 50 percent plus one vote to be elected president. Otherwise, a runoff will be held on September 8 between the top two contestants.
The main contenders in the presidential election are incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mugabe as president and leader of the Zanu-PF last year, and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
75-year-old Mnangagwa, a former spy chief and long-time aide of Mugabe, is also known as “the Crocodile.” He is in a tight race with his 40-year-old challenger, Chamisa, who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The opposition party alleges that the polls could be riddled with fraud, claiming that the authorities are biased, and that the election commission has been refusing to give the party the voters’ roll and sight of the ballot papers.
This, however, did not cause the opposition to boycott the elections, with Chamisa saying, “We can’t boycott our victory. Winners don’t quit. Winners don’t boycott.”
The ruling party holds a grip on security forces and state news media.
However, international election observers, opposition politicians and rights groups have for the first time in decades been allowed to observe the vote.
Mugabe turns against right-hand man
In the meantime, Mugabe made a rare public appearance at a news conference from his mansion in Harare, saying that he will not vote for his successor, Mnangagw, who became president after Mugabe was forced from office by the “party I founded.”
When asked if he would like to see Chamisa win, Mugabe said that the opposition leader was the only viable candidate.
Mugabe, 94, however, said he hoped that “the choice of voting tomorrow will thrust away the military government and bring us back to constitutionality.”
On the other hand, Mnangagwa accused Mugabe of making a deal with Chamisa.
“It is clear to all that he has forged a deal with Mugabe. We can no longer believe that his intentions are to transform Zimbabwe and rebuild our nation,” he said.
Mugabe’s 37-year old ruling came to an end last November after Zimbabwe’s military took over the capital and the state broadcaster and held Mugabe and his wife under house arrest in a bloodless coup d’état.