Harare: People queue in order to cast their ballot outside a polling station.—AFP
Harare: People queue in order to cast their ballot outside a polling station.—AFP

HARARE: Zimbabweans lined up on Monday to vote in the country’s first election since Robert Mugabe was ousted, with the opposition vowing to defy alleged ballot fraud and deliver an electoral upset.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former right-hand man 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.

Officials overseeing the polls, in which a record number of candidates are standing, said early signs including long queues at some polling stations suggested a high turnout nationwide. “I just have to do this. I have to see a better Zimbabwe for my kids. Things have been tough,” Tawanda Petru, 28, an unemployed man voting in Mbare, a low-income district of the capital Harare, said.

“I’m going to vote for Chamisa, for change. I am not afraid.” Mugabe, 94, who was ousted by the military in November, voted at his customary polling station in Harare alongside his wife Grace after a surprise two-hour press conference at his home on Sunday during which he called for voters to reject ZANU-PF.

Mugabe, wearing a dark suit and red tie, was greeted with cheersat the polling station but did not answer journalists’ questions about who he voted for.

Mnangagwa, voting in his Kwekwe constituency in central Zimbabwe, said Mugabe had the right to express himself in the country’s new “democratic space”.

“I am very happy that the process for campaigning was peaceful (and) voting today is peaceful,” he added.

Mnangagwa, 75, has has promised change and is the clear front-runner benefitting from tacit military support, loyal state media and ruling party controls of government resources.

The party controls the lower house of parliament, which is also up for election. But Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor who has performed strongly on the campaign trail, hopes to tap into the youth vote.

“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,” Chamisa said as he voted in Harare, supported by vocal supporters. He again raised fraud allegations saying his victory would be assured if rigged ballots were excluded.

On Twitter, he alleged there was a “deliberate attempt to suppress” voting in urban areas — MDC strongholds.

Zimbabwe’s generals shocked the world last year when they seized control and ushered in Mnangagwa after Mugabe allegedly groomed Grace succeed him.

The election is Zimbabwe’s first without Mugabe, who led ZANU-PF to power on independence from Britain in 1980 and clung to power for 37 years.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2018