Zimbabwe’s leading opposition candidate accused the country’s electoral authorities of trying to suppress voter turnout at presidential elections on Monday, raising fears of a disputed outcome to the historic poll.
Millions of Zimbabweans turned out to vote in the country’s first presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections since dictator Robert Mugabe was ousted in a military coup in November.
The outcome will decide whether Emmerson Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old former ally of Mr Mugabe, or Nelson Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and preacher leading the opposition MDC alliance, will be the country’s next president.
The only poll released in the run up to the vote showed Mr Mnangagwa leading Mr Chamisa by just 3 per cent, and the results, which must be announced by Saturday, are expected to be tight.
Emmerson Mnangagwa cast his ballot in Kwekwe, 100 miles southwest of Harare
Emmerson Mnangagwa cast his ballot in Kwekwe, 100 miles southwest of Harare Credit: Xinhua / Barcroft Images
Mr Chamisa, who has repeatedly accused the country’s electoral authorities of colluding with Mr Mnangagwa and his Zanu-PF Party, claimed queues at some polling stations in Harare on Monday were a deliberate attempt to reduce turnout in traditional strongholds of the opposition MDC Alliance.
“There seems to be a deliberate attempt to suppress and frustrate the Urban vote,” Mr Chamisa wrote on Twitter.
“Good turn out but the people’s will being negated & undetermined due to these deliberate & unnecessary delays.”
There were queues of up to one hour at Harare polling stations visited by the Telegraph.
Polling stations are technically obliged to remain open until all those still in line at 7PM, when polling closes, have voted.
EU chief observer Elmar Brok said many voters left voting queues in frustration at long delays but that it was as yet unclear whether those delays were deliberate or down to poor management.
“In some cases it (voting) works very smoothly but in others we see that it is totally disorganized and that people become angry, people leave,” Mr Brok told reporters in Harare.
Voting generally went smoothly and there was no violence reported.
However, several voters said that memories of 2008, when Mr Mugabe unleashed thugs to terrorise MDC activists and supporters, still loomed large.
“I’m glad we voted. We really badly need change,” said a 61-year-old man who cast his ballot in the Harare suburb of Newlands.
“But I don’t want to give you my name or say who I voted for because we don’t know what the repercussions will be afterwards. It would be easy to track me down.”
Zanu-PF have ruled Zimbabwe for 38 years and Mr Mnangagwa’s near total dominance in the media makes him the front runner in the election.
He has sought to attract former opposition voters by publicly breaking with Mr Mugabe and promising a “New Dispensation” of democratic and economic reforms.
Nelson Chamisa voted at the 2 Primary High School in Kuwadzana, Harare
Nelson Chamisa voted at the 2 Primary High School in Kuwadzana, Harare Credit: Wilfred Kajese/Anadolu Agency
However, Mr Chamisa has made significant inroads into former Zanu PF strongholds in rural areas and has attracted large crowds at his rallies.
He has said he is certain of victory and that any other outcome could only be the result of vote-rigging by Zanu-PF.
“I am moderately bullish,” said Terence Mukupe, the Zanu-PF candidate for the constituency of Harare East, before casting his vote.
“The MDC vote is split, and the business community, the white community, and the middle classes who used to vote for the opposition have largely switched to ED,” he said, using Mr Mnangagwa’s initials.
But as polls closed on Monday evening there were signs that Mr Chamisa had made inroads into Zanu-PF’s own traditional strongholds.
One 71-year-old grandmother from a village 40 miles north of Harare said she did not vote for Zanu-PF for the first time because she said she now felt “safe” to support the opposition.
“We….my friends from church like sweet things, and so some of us grandmothers voted for Chamisa,” she laughed.
The election has been dominated by the legacy of Mr Mugabe, with both candidates promising a break with the stagnation and political violence of his rule.