HARARE - Zimbabweans are awaiting the results of a pivotal election that could, many hope, turn around their nation’s shattered economy and tarnished reputation after 38 years of iron-fisted rule under former leader Robert Mugabe.
Observers in the capital, Harare, reported no major incidents Monday as polls closed late in the evening. Elmar Brock, head of the European Union observer mission, said the polls were, in some parts of the country, “very smooth “ but “very disorganized “ in other areas.
VOA randomly visited three voting stations in the capital as the polls prepared to close, and all reported high turnout ranging between 85 percent and 92 percent. Poll workers and party observers said they had seen no major problems all day. On Monday, however, the nation’s electoral commission also announced it had reported two presidential candidates to police for campaigning beyond the official end of campaigning on Saturday. While the commission did not name them, the two front-runners issued political statements on Sunday night.
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This poll is effectively a two-way race between President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe’s resignation in November; and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
In Harare, younger voters turned out in force to cast their votes. Many were so eager that they appeared long before the polls opened at 7 a.m. local time.
“I came here last night. I slept outside of the gate because I was afraid of the queue, since I want to vote early,” said 23-year-old
When asked whom she supports, Taika smiled and said, “It’s my secret.” But she made her desires known. “We want to have some jobs so we can care for ourselves and our parents and live a better life.”
Andrew Anthony came prepared to cast his vote with an unusual accessory, a vuvuzela, a Southern African plastic horn often used at sports events. That’s because, the 32-year-old said, he felt election day was a day worth celebrating.
“Today marks the end of the past 38 years,” he said. “So, I’m calling on all young people in the nation of Zimbabwe and in the diaspora and whatever you are, come, let’s make history in the nation of Zimbabwe.”
When asked what he thought needed to change in Zimbabwe, he said, “Everything. Government. President. Let’s give new blood a chance to rule the nation.”
Chamisa, who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, was greeted by an ecstatic crowd when he arrived mid-morning to cast his vote in Harare.
“The people have spoken. The people are speaking, and it’s clear that the vote is a vote for victory, a vote for freedom, a vote for democracy, a vote for a new Zimbabwe, a vote for the genuinely new, and a vote for a new direction,” he said. “And I have no doubt by the end of the day here, we should be very clear as to an emphatic voice for change. And I represent that.”
Mnangagwa, leader of the ruling ZANU-PF, cast his vote far outside of Harare, and appeared relaxed and confident as he did so. Pre-election polls have given him a narrow lead in the race.
Voter John Kamumvuri, who is 66, said he’d lost count of how many elections he’s voted in. But this one, he said, is different.
“We are very happy to have a different vote,” he said. But, no matter who wins, “It will be changed. Zimbabwe will be changed.”
That change, he said, is all because Mugabe is no longer in the picture. But he has continued to play a part on the political stage. On the eve of the poll, Mugabe lashed out at the political party he founded, accusing it of deposing him in a coup. While he did not name his choice, he hinted heavily he would vote for Chamisa.
“I cannot vote for ZANU-PF,” Mugabe said. “I cannot vote for those who have caused me to be in this condition.”
On Monday, a frail Mugabe, assisted by wife Grace and daughter Bona, arrived to a welcoming crowd at his polling station in the middle class Highfield suburb. Like any other voter, he showed ID — in his case, a diplomatic passport with his official portrait as the photograph. He shuffled down the line of poll workers, receiving his three ballots for the local, parliamentary and presidential races, and offered his finger to have it marked with indelible ink.
He lingered in his cardboard voting booth, his daughter at his elbow, and placed his three ballots carefully in their boxes. He then left to cheers, ululations, and calls of “Chisa” — a chant in support of Chamisa.
Mugabe did not answer when VOA asked for whom he voted.