HARARE-Voters in Zimbabwe are going to the polls in the country’s first election without the involvement of long-time leader Robert Mugabe.
The country’s founding president, Mr Mugabe, was ousted last year after almost four decades in power.
According to BBC, the main contenders in the presidential vote are incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, of the ruling Zanu-PF party, and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
Parliamentary and local elections are also taking place on Monday.
Polls give Mr Mnangagwa, thought to be 75, a narrow lead over his 40-year-old rival, who leads the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) Alliance.
On Sunday, Mr Mugabe – who first came to power after independence in 1980 – said he would not vote for his successor.
The country is expecting a high turnout of first-time voters. Younger voters are expected to be key – almost half of those registered are under the age of 35.
Hundreds of international observers have been deployed to ensure the vote goes smoothly, but the opposition has repeatedly alleged irregularities in the voter roll.
They have also expressed concern over the security of ballot papers and voter intimidation in mainly rural areas.
Meet the frontrunners:
Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zanu-PF
- Known as “the crocodile” because of his political shrewdness – his party faction is known as “Lacoste”
- Accused of masterminding attacks on opposition supporters after the 2008 election
- Thought to be 75 years old, he promises to deliver jobs, and is seen as open to economic reforms
- Survived several alleged assassination attempts, blamed on supporters of ex-President Mugabe
Nelson Chamisa, MDC Alliance
- His skull was fractured when beaten up by state security agents in 2007
- Became an MP at 25, a cabinet minister at 31 and could become the youngest president at 40
- A recently qualified pastor, he has been using the hashtag #GodIsInIt for his campaign
- Has promised to rebuild the country’s devastated economy, but has been criticised for making extravagant promises – such as the introduction of a high-speed bullet train and bringing the Olympics to Zimbabwe
The election follows decades of repressive rule which have brought severe economic challenges to Zimbabwe.
These include issues of investment, education, healthcare and jobs – some estimates suggest that the unemployment rate is as high as 90%.
Mr Mugabe, who resigned in November after the military took control of the country, said: “I cannot vote for those who tormented me… I hope the choice of voting tomorrow will thrust away the military government and bring us back to constitutionality,”
The 94-year-old indicated that Mr Chamisa was the only viable candidate.
In response to the comments, Mr Mnangagwa accused his former boss of making a deal with the opposition.
“It is clear to all that Chamisa has forged a deal with Mugabe, we can no longer believe that his intentions are to transform Zimbabwe and rebuild our nation,” he said.
Mr Mugabe also denied that, as president, he had planned to hand the leadership to his wife, Grace, saying it was “utter nonsense”.
Election in numbers
- 5,635,706 people have re-registered to a new voters’ roll; the opposition still has doubts about its accuracy
- 43.5% of registered voters are under 35
- 10,985 polling stations
- 16 years since EU and US observers were allowed to monitor elections