Supporters of Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party react after attending their final rally at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 28, 2018.
Supporters of Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party react after attending their final rally at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 28, 2018.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE - Zimbabwe's two main presidential rivals faced off Saturday, in simultaneous final rallies in the capital that drew tens of thousands of supporters and set the stage for a fierce battle in Monday's pivotal election.

WATCH:  Parties Promise Change Ahead of Pivotal Vote

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his main challenger, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, rallied their supporters in their final push before election day. Both promised to implement change and to resuscitate the nation's ailing economy, which has slid into a spiral after years of alleged mismanagement and corruption under the only leader independent Zimbabwe has ever known, Robert Mugabe. He resigned in November under pressure from the military, and Mnangagwa, his deputy, took his place.

"No one who is honest will say things are not changing," Mnangagwa, 75, told a stadium filled to just over half capacity.

He pointed to what he said were economic improvements over the last eight months. He also pledged to accept the outcome of Monday's poll, even if it meant his defeat.

Chamisa, 40, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, stressed the need for new blood after nearly four decades of rule by Mnangagwa's ZANU-PF party. 

Supporters of Nelson Chamisa's opposition Movement
Supporters of Nelson Chamisa's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party attend the final election rally in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 28, 2018.

"People are voting for the new," he said before a teeming crowd in central Harare, in a speech delivered mainly in the Shona language. "People are voting for the young. People are voting for a new Zimbabwe in authentic and genuine terms."

Both men — and indeed, all 22 candidates contesting the presidency — are offering some version of the same promise: to bring in change, fix the economy and restore the reputation of a nation long seen as an international pariah for its poor human rights record.

The election is being watched keenly by local observers, and international observers have been invited for the first time in years.

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, part of a bipartisan U.S. observation mission, has described the poll as "enormously historic," and praised the campaign's relative lack of violence and intimidation.

"This election amounts to a new beginning for Zimbabwe, and one in which I think there is a great deal of optimism on all sides," he said.

VOA's Blessing Zulu contributed to this report.