Presidential and legislative elections are being held in Zimbabwe on Wednesday. Incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa is trying to cling to power, while the repressed opposition hopes to garner a protest vote.
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Polling stations open Wednesday, August 23 in Zimbabwe to elect the president and the Parliament, at the end of a campaign marked by a repression without nuance of the opposition and significant irregularities in the electoral lists.
The opposition, historically strong in cities, hopes to garner a protest vote rooted in growing anger over a stricken economy marked by record unemployment and steady hyperinflation. “We are tired of living hand to mouth, we don’t save a dollar,” breathes Paddington, 27, who sells oranges from the back of his rusty van on the outskirts of the capital Harare.
Can outgoing President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 80, rectify the situation? The shopkeeper bursts into nervous laughter. If he placed a poster of the ruling Zanu-PF on his truck, it was to “have peace”, he said, referring to the threats of reprisals against those who openly criticize the government. Zanu-PF, in power since the landlocked southern African country gained independence in 1980, appears determined to cling to power.
His main rival Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor, broke his voice during his last meeting in Harare on Monday, in front of a crowd dressed in yellow, the color of his Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC). “I led 75 rallies” all over the country, yelled this slender man, thin mustache and golden shirt. “Over a hundred (others) have been banned but God says it’s time for me to be president.” “We are going to win this election”, and even “largely”, he predicted, promising to replace “a sovereign with a leader”.
According to government spokesman Nick Mangwana, the ballot will be peaceful. In 2018, the army fired live ammunition at protesters contesting Mnangagwa’s election, killing six people. “The country is calm… There is already peace,” he told AFP on Tuesday. “I just want every Zimbabwean to accept the choice of the people,” he added. As if the chips were down.
The president has tirelessly promised a fair ballot. But “Zanu-PF is unstoppable. Victory is certain,” he said on Saturday during his last meeting. “No one will stop us from running this country,” he said earlier this month.
Zimbabweans have been plunged for years into an economic crisis from which they see no end. “The roads are not good, the schools are not good, our economy is not good,” Tendai Kativhu, a 37-year-old carpenter, told AFP.
But after a campaign marked by intimidation and the arrests of opponents, in a country plagued by a long history of flawed elections, few believe that Nelson Chamisa, dubbed “the young man” by contrast to the octogenarian president, will emerge victorious.
Human Rights Watch predicted a “seriously flawed electoral process”. And significant irregularities were noted on the electoral lists, by the opposition as well as by civil society organizations, also arousing fears of electoral fraud during the counting of the ballots. These concerns are “the fruit of an overflowing imagination”, Rodney Kiwa, vice-president of the Electoral Commission (ZEC), told AFP. “We are ready. If there are problems, we will solve them”.
The economy is at the heart of the concerns of the 6.6 million voters. Inflation was 101% in July, according to official figures. For Zimbabwean political analyst Brian Kagoro, if the campaign hadn’t been so biased against the opposition, it was “the most winnable election” for her in 15 years.
Chamisa promises to build a new Zimbabwe “for all”: tackling corruption, reviving the economy. To restore his image, President Mnangagwa, nicknamed the “Crocodile” for his ruthlessness, has cut a multitude of ribbons in recent weeks, inaugurating power stations and clinics.
The president is elected by absolute majority. If no candidate wins 50% of the votes plus one, a second round is organised.
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