Harare, July 30 (IANS) Millions of Zimbabweans voted on Monday in the southern African countrys first election since the removal of its former President Robert Mugabe, a watershed poll that will determine the former British colonys future for decades.
Foreign observers hailed the election as an opportunity for Zimbabwe to break with its repressive past.
Long lines of voters formed outside polling stations across the country when they opened at 7 a.m. Turn-out appeared extremely high, the BBC reported.
By early afternoon, polling officials in Harare and Norton, a town 25 miles from the capital, reported that between 75 and 85 per cent of registered voters had cast their ballots.
The presidential election is expected to be a tight contest between the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa and his main rival Nelson Chamisa. Both leaders were running for the presidency for the first time, according to the Guardian.
Parliamentary and local elections were also held. Opinion polls gave Mnangagwa, who heads the ruling Zanu-PF party, a narrow lead over Chamisa, who leads the country’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Mnangagwa is a dour former spy chief known as “the Crocodile” for his reputation for ruthless cunning.
On the other hand, Chamisa is a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor whose only experience of power was a stint as a minister in a coalition government several years ago. Both the leaders represent dramatically different ideologies and political styles as well as generations.
Almost four decades of rule by the 94-year-old Mugabe has left Zimbabwe with a shattered economy, soaring unemployment and a crumbling infrastructure. The presidential election is a chance for the country to finally shed its reputation as a pariah state and move to a democracy free from international sanctions.
Mugabe, in his first major political statement since being ousted from office last November, said on Sunday that he would not vote for his former party Zanu-PF or Mnangagwa.
“I can’t vote for Zanu-PF. I can’t vote for the people who have brought me into this state,” Mugabe said during a press conference in the garden of his home in Harare.
“I must say clearly I cannot vote for those who have tormented me. I can’t,” the ailing former revolutionary added. “I will make my case among the other 22 (out of the 23 candidates).”
He cast his ballot in Highfield, a suburb of the capital. He was forced to resign late last year after nearly four decades in power, following a crisis sparked by his decision to fire Mnangagwa, his then vice-President.
The country suffered crippling hyperinflation under Mugabe and it desperately needs the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to start giving it loans again. It also needs the US, EU and others to lift sanctions.
Nyari Musabeyana, a 30-year-old hairdresser in Kuwadzana, said she had got up early to vote for change. “We wish things to be OK in our village. We have no jobs, no cash, no economy. It is the fault of the past government.”
If no candidate wins more than half the votes, there will be a runoff in five weeks, though as per analysts that scenario is unlikely. The campaign has been peaceful, unlike previous polls that have been marked by systematic intimidation and violence.