Harare — Polling stations opened at 7am across Zimbabwe this morning, with voting expected to close at 7pm.
Initial observations suggest a high turnout in the first election of the post-Mugabe era, with president and ruling party candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition coalition leader Nelson Chamisa considered the front runners.
There were concerns in urban areas, which are opposition strongholds, that long queues were moving too slowly, raising fears of a repeat of the 2002 disputed elections that saw polling stations closing before thousands of people could vote.
Some voters were being turned away at polling stations as their names were not captured on the voters roll, even though they claimed to have registered and received registration slips.
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba said voting started peacefully and on time at most polling stations, and by Monday afternoon large turnouts had been recorded in 90 percent of the 10 985.
Chamisa voted in Kuwadzana, a poor suburb in Harare where he has been an MP for the past 18 years. After voting, Chamisa said his victory is a foregone conclusion. “We have already won this election. I’m only here to confirm that we are ready to lead. We are ready to govern, we are ready for a new Zimbabwe,” said Chamisa.
Chamisa was reported to the police by the electoral commission on Sunday, who said a press conference he had held on that day violated the electoral act which forbids campaigning on the day before the vote.
Chamisa dismissed the allegation, and said the ZEC was perpetuating its bias against him as it was misinterpreting the law, adding Mnangagwa had also sent messages to his supporters on the same day but no report was filed with the police against him.
“They don’t know the law. They will be taught the law. They are very, very, very wrong on the law, so I’m not interested. I mean, they are just perpetuating their bias. They are doing this bidding on behalf of Mnangagwa who is panicking,” he said.
Mnangagwa voted with his family in his hometown of Kwekwe in the Midlands province. After voting, he said the country is experiencing democracy never witnessed before.
He said Mugabe — who on Sunday endorsed Chamisa in an extraordinary press conference — has the right to to express his opinion. President Mnangagwa also said he will continue to regularly engage the former president as a citizen of Zimbabwe.
Before going to vote, Mnangagwa had posted on facebook: “Let us all go to vote today with peace in our hearts. Let us all be respectful, tolerant and love one another. Let us all remember that no matter who we support, we are all brothers and sisters. We are one people, with one dream and one destiny. We will sink or swim together.”
Deposed president Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, voted in Highfield, Harare. He arrived at the polling station with his wife Grace and daughter Bona to chants of “Gushungo, gushungo”, a reference to his traditional totem.
In Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo, another presidential candidate Thokozane Khupe, a leader of a break-away MDC faction said she was confident of victory but expressed concern that voting queues were moving at a snail’s pace.
She said even though she had not taken much time to vote in Bulawayo’s oldest township of Makokoba, she had received reports from her members that voting lines were moving slowly.
A senior opposition official and lawyer, David Coltart, said he was afraid of double voting and a possible repeat of the 2002 presidential election when thousands were disenfranchised when polling stations closed before some could vote.
“The turn-out has been very high. The queues are moving very slowly, I have been in the queue for more than three hours now. I hope this is not a strategy to deter the urban vote in favour of the rural vote. Also, the ink they are using is not indelible, we see some people may double vote, but it’s a peaceful poll which is positive,” he said.
Ex-prime minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, who is the head of the African Union Election Observer Mission in Zimbabwe, told reporters that there has been a high voter turnout.
“So far we are trying to collect information from areas we are deployed and I think, so far, it’s generally peaceful, orderly and professionally handled. That is our finding,” he said. “I think it’s clear that when you see the queues, the turnout is so high.”