Polls in Zimbabwe opened for the first general election since former President Robert Mugabe was forced to resign from office in November 2017, with the country expecting a high turnout of voters in what will be a tightly fought contest.

 

Zimbabwe’s current president is Emmerson Mnangawa, who is the leader of the Zanu-PF party, and is widely considered to be partly responsible for the ousting of Mugabe, alongside the help of the Zimbabwean military. Nicknamed ‘The Crocodile’, he is arguably not exactly the breath of fresh air that many of his compatriots desired for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. He is over 70 years old and has been accused of being the mastermind behind violence against political dissidents after the 2008 general election, the result of which outsiders declared as undemocratic. Ironically, he has been the target of several assassination attempts, allegedly at the hands of supporters of the former president. His campaign promises of decreasing unemployment have given him a narrow lead over his main rival, Nelson Chamisa of the MDC alliance.

 

Chamisa, 40, could become the nation’s youngest ever president. He has served as an MP and Cabinet minister, and is also a pastor, who has used his religious platform to garner support for his campaign through the hashtag #GodIsInIt. He has had first-hand experience of the brutalities of the former regime, having had his skull fractured by state security agents in 2007, and has made lofty campaign pledges such as bringing the Olympic games to Zimbabwe, and echoing Mnangagwa’s aims to completely revitalise the country’s economy, which has been in a state of crisis since 2000.

Leader of the opposition MDC party, Nelson Chamisa, casts his ballot (Source: Reuters)

Although concerns persist about the fairness of the upcoming general, local and parliamentary elections, the country has shown more willingness to be transparent about its voting process than ever before.  President Mnangagwa has allowed EU and US observers to monitor the elections for the first time since 2002, as an attempt to distance himself from Robert Mugabe’s policy of isolation towards the western world. Of course, this new found warmth towards the EU and US could be done with the view of securing desperately needed foreign investments.

 

Mugabe himself has indirectly endorsed Chamisa, emphatically ruling out voting “for those who tormented me” and expressed his hope that the voters would “thrust away the military government and bring us back to constitutionality”.

 

Many of those voting in the general elections will be first-time voters, in what can be seen as a positive signal for Zimbabwe’s democracy. 5.6 million people have re-registered to a new voter’s roll, and almost half of registered voters are under the age of 35.  The opposition has expressed some concerns over the accuracy of the roll and voter intimidation in rural areas, but the high numbers of international observers present during the vote has gone some way in allaying fears both domestically and abroad. Whatever the result, Zimbabweans will have their first opportunity in a generation to have a decisive say on the direction in which the country will embark, a welcome development for a people that have longed for such an opportunity.