Fragile peace pledge
Violence was initially not a feature of the election. Political parties had emphasized peace, giving confidence to the electorate. In the past, elections were marred by violence and many voters steered clear of the polls. This time, incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) signed a peace pledge, along with its main rivals from the Movement for Democratic Change - Tsvangirai (MDC-T). The number of registered voters, which had hovered around 3 million for years, rose to 5.6 million in 2018. The preliminary voter turnout figure was 75 percent, compared to 46 percent in previous polls. However, on Wednesday afternoon armed troops were out on the streets of Harare to disperse crowds of opposition supporters angry about alleged poll manipulation.
The right connections
Alliance-building was a key feature of the election. The fractured and weak MDC-T set aside its squabbles with other party factions to contest the poll as the MDC Alliance. The death of the party's leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February had marked a blow. Observers cautioned new MDC-T leader Nelson Chamisa that his election allies – including the Welshman Ncube-led MDC, the People's Democratic Party and Transform Zimbabwe – could as easily catapult the opposition to a loss as to a victory. ZANU-PF, although shaken by Mugabe's departure, somehow weathered the storm and remained a formidable force.
If elections in Zimbabwe have taught voters one thing, it's patience. The conduct of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, for example, sometimes tests citizens, political parties and the media alike. The 2018 elections saw several complaints about issues such as the voters' roll and access to the public media. Political parties, particularly the opposition, staged demonstrations to push for reforms to the electoral system that yielded little. But frustration and tension did not spill over into violence.
Zimbabwe's political landscape opened up to international scrutiny for the first time in 16 years. The strong contingent of electoral observers helped to restore confidence in the electoral process. Incidents of violence, intimidation and irregularities were nowhere near as many as those reported during the Mugabe era. The EU's chief election observer in Zimbabwe, Elmar Brok, told DW that Monday's elections displayed a lot of shortcomings in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party, but huge progress compared to elections in 2008 and 2013.
The now matters
Mnangagwa, a veteran of the ruling party, was closely linked to Mugabe and atrocities credited to him, such as the Gukurahundi massacres of the 1980s. In the run-up to the election, however, Mnangagwa appeared to gain acceptance among voters, even in regions of the country where no vote would previously have been cast in his favor. A triumph at the polls would mean Zimbabwe has an electorate who chose Mnangagwa for what he promised to do differently from his predecessor.
The young ones
The vote of young Zimbabweans — 46 percent of the electorate is under 35 — is seen as key to changing the political climate. It is still not clear how many turned out to vote. The economy, in dire need of resuscitation, is a top priority for many of them. Jobs are still so scarce that university graduates are forced to resort to small-scale street vending. Chamisa, who at 40 is 35 years younger than Mnangagwa, targeted young people in his campaign.
Likes are not votes
The use of social media in the context of the election increased in 2018. Citizens and politicians expressed themselves freely on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. There were the usual pitfalls such as 'fake news' and, in some instances, an overreliance on social media. The final result will show that social media likes are not votes.