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Zimbabwe election: Voting underway amid delays

Published August 23, 2023last updated August 23, 2023

Zimbabwe's opposition is seeking to unseat President Emmerson Mnangagwa's ZANU-PF party, which has ruled since the country's independence in 1980.

Zimbabwean voters lining up at polling station
Zimbabweans lined up to vote in general elections on WednesdayImage: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Zimbabweans went to the polls on Wednesday for general elections.

Incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is facing off against 11 other candidates.

ZANU-PF has ruled Zimbabwe since the country's independence from British colonial rule in 1980.

Voting stations were supposed to open at 7 a.m. local time (0500 UTC) and close at 7:00 p.m. (1700 UTC), however, reports of delays of up to eight hours at some polling stations have triggered accusations of manipulation.

Opposition claims vote 'rigging,' 'voter suppression'

Zimbabwe's opposition leader accused the ZANU-PF government of sending the country into crisis by "rigging" the election with long delays and reports of voter intimidation.

"This is a clear case of voter suppression, a classic case of Stone Age, antiquated, analog rigging," Nelson Chamisa, the head of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), said during a press conference in the capital.

Zimbabwe holds general election

Some voters left waiting for hours for polling stations to open

The delays were reported in mostly opposition strongholds with less than a quarter of polling stations in the capital Harare opening on time.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said "numerous court challenges" had delayed the printing of ballot papers.

The commission added that everyone who was waiting in line at 7 p.m. would be able to vote. 

"I am not going anywhere. I waited five years to vote, and these hours won't kill me," Cathrine Nyakudanga told the Associated Press. She had arrived before polls opened, carrying her six-month-old baby on her back, but ballot papers did not arrive until 4 p.m.

Mnangagwa seeking final term

Mnangagwa, known as the "Crocodile," assumed office following a 2017 coup that ousted strongman Robert Mugabe, also of the ZANU-PF, who had led Zimbabwe since 1980.

The incumbent president is seeking a second and final term. Zimbabwe's constitution, approved in a 2013 reform, allows presidents to serve for a maximum of two five-year terms.

A run-off election will be held on October 2 if no candidate achieves an absolute majority in the first round.

Mnangagwa's main challenger, Chamisa of the CCC party, has accused the government of repressing his party, including blocking the party's campaign rallies.

US calls for elections 'free of violence'

The US State Department voiced concern about political violence ahead of the election.

"We call on the government of Zimbabwe and all political leaders to ensure the elections are free of violence and coercion," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

"We are concerned by recent actions leading up to the elections, including political violence and legislation that curtails human rights and freedoms enshrined in Zimbabwe's constitution," he said.

The State Department spokesman criticized the denial of credentials to international journalists and local civil society to cover the election.

The United States has for years imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe.

ab, sdi/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)