Tue, Jul 31, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Zimbabwe holds crucial national poll

MISSING NAME:More than 20 people were seeking the presidency and nearly 130 political parties were taking part, but one familiar name was conspicuously absent

AFP, HARARE

People yesterday line up outside Efusini polling station in Makokoba Township to vote in Zimbabwe’s general elections.

Photo: AFP

Zimbabweans yesterday were voting peacefully in their first election without former president Robert Mugabe on the ballot, a contest that could bring international legitimacy and investment or signal more stagnation if the vote is seriously flawed.

About 5.5 million people were registered to vote in the southern African nation anxious for change after economic and political paralysis during the nearly four-decade rule of 94-year-old Mugabe.

Long lines formed outside many polling stations in Harare, the capital, and elsewhere.

“I want to do this and get on with my business. I am not leaving anything to chance. This is my future,” said Emerina Akenda, a first-time voter.

Thousands of election monitors fanned out across the country to observe a process that the opposition says is biased against them despite electoral commission assurances that it will be credible.

The two main contenders are 75-year-old Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who took over after Mugabe stepped down under military pressure last year, and 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who became head of the main opposition party a few months ago after the death of its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe on Sunday called Chamisa the only viable candidate and rejected Mnangagwa and the ruling party, saying that “I cannot vote for those who have tormented me.”

Piercing whistles and cheers greeted Chamisa as he voted outside Harare, saying that “it’s a great moment for Zimbabwe.”

He said he hoped voting in rural areas, where most of Zimbabwe’s voters are and where the ruling party usually holds away, will be fair.

Mnangagwa urged Zimbabweans to be peaceful, tweeting: “We are one people, with one dream and one destiny. We will sink or swim together.”

He voted and called the election peaceful, and he took Mugabe’s criticism in stride, saying: “He is a citizen... He can engage me anytime.”

A record of more than 20 presidential candidates and nearly 130 political parties were participating. If no presidential candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held on Sept. 8.

“This is a critical moment in Zimbabwe’s democratic journey,” said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Liberian president and a leader of one of the international observer missions.

“The elections today provide an opportunity to break with the past,” Sirleaf said at a polling station in a school in Harare. “The lines and voter enthusiasm we are seeing this morning must be matched by an accurate count and their choice must be honored.”

Past elections were marred by violence, intimidation and irregularities, but Mnangagwa, a former enforcer for Mugabe who says he now represents change, has promised that this election would be free and fair.

The presence of Western election monitors for the first time in years is an indicator of a freer political environment, though concerns have been raised about state media bias toward the ruling party as well as a lack of transparency with the printing of ballot papers.

EU election observers were seen at one polling station in Harare, checking the voting process. African Unions attended the opening of polling stations elsewhere.

Even though it was a public holiday, some government offices were open so that those who had lost identity cards could get replacements and then cast their ballots.

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