An ever-worsening economic situation will hang over Zimbabwean voters as they go to the polls on Wednesday in a repeat of the 2018 election pitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa against his charismatic and relatively youthful challenger, Nelson Chamisa.
Mnangagwa narrowly defeated Chamisa in a hotly contested vote five years ago following the coup that deposed Robert Mugabe, and pledged to to tackle the economy “head on” in his first term. Unemployment, inflation and falls in the value of the Zimdollar have, however, persisted.
Eleven candidates are vying for top office but the real contest is between Mnangagwa, from the ruling Zanu-PF party, and Chamisa, of the Citizens Coalition for Change.
Chamisa has promised to turn around the country’s fortunes and bring back Zimbabwe to the community of nations. He also pledged to fight corruption, and pay workers a minimum wage in US dollars. For his part, Mnangagwa claims to have made major strides towards getting the economy on track, in part by building infrastructure, and says Zimbabwe will be more prosperous if he gets another five years.
Since repossessing land from white farm owners in 2000, Zimbabwe’s economy has suffered a major collapse, as financial aid from the IMF and World Bank dried up in the face of economic sanctions on Mugabe’s administration.
Unemployment and poverty levels remain high in the country once regarded as the bread basket of southern Africa. Despite claiming a bumper harvest, nearly 3.8 million people will go hungry this year.
“We are going to restore the economy. We will get rid of the Zimbabwean dollar and put US dollars in your pockets,” Chamisa said to cheers from his supporters in Harare on Monday.
About 6.6 million Zimbabweans are expected to cast their vote for a new president, legislators and councillors in the second general election being held since the end of Mugabe’s 37-year-rule.
Of the total number of voters, 1 million will be voting for the first time, most of whom have never experienced a prosperous Zimbabwe.
“All I want is a decent job,” Everjoy Mupazvirihwo, 26, an engineering graduate, said as he waved a yellow flag emblazoned with Chamisa’s face on Monday. “Ever since I finished college, finding a job has been difficult. We are not asking for much.”
Observers have predicted an increased voter turnout in Wednesday’s polls despite a crackdown on the opposition. In 2018, voter turnout was 75%, according to the electoral commission.
Zimbabwe has a history of disputed and violent elections since the country’s independence from the UK in 1980. Human rights groups say the same factors that blighted past elections – voter roll irregularities, public media bias, and the use of law enforcement and the courts to hamstring opposition campaigns – remain.
Forty CCC supporters are still in custody after being detained for attending a banned car rally last week. An opposition supporter died in early August following an ambush by suspected ruling party supporters on a group of people travelling to a rally.
Human rights organisations have reported growing intimidation in the countryside, where Chamisa has described voters’ choice as “death or Zanu-PF”. “Zimbabwe, try me. My hands have no blood. These hands are safe,” Chamisa told supporters on Monday.
The CCC president has claimed that the electoral commission had refused to give him a full and searchable voters’ roll and a copy of the ballot paper, among other complaints. His party has taken the commission to court over the issues, but no ruling has been made.
Chamisa says he briefed electoral observers, including SADC and former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano on the electoral irregularities, alleging vote rigging was already underway.
The 45-year-old pastor and lawyer, who lost a constitutional court challenge to overturn Mnangagwa’s narrow win in 2018, said he had employed election agents to monitor the counting of ballots and avoid electoral “theft”.
Polling stations open on Wednesday at 7am and close at 7pm, after which counting of votes will begin. To win the presidency, a candidate will need to get more than 50% of the vote and two-thirds in parliament to claim a majority.
This article is part of The NewsReporLive’s Project Zivai (Get Informed) Free2Express programme supported by Magamba Network.