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Polls open in Zimbabwe's first post-Mugabe presidential election

Polls open in Zimbabwe's first post-Mugabe presidential election
Copyright REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Copyright REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
By Evelyn LaverickAlasdair Sandford with Reuters
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Voters in the southern African country are choosing a new president, eight months after Robert Mugabe was forced from power following nearly 40 years of repressive rule.


Zimbabweans have begun voting in the country’s first presidential election not to feature the name of Robert Mugabe on the ballot paper.

On Monday, European Union observers painted a mixed picture about the historic vote - saying it went "very smooth" in some places and "totally disorganized" in others. 

Elmar Brok, the EU's chief observer, said long queues made it frustrating for some voters, particularly young women, who were seen leaving the queue because of the delay.

"In some cases it (voting queues) works very smoothly but in others we see that it is disorganized and that people become angry, people leave," Brok said, adding he's not sure whether this was due to bad organization or was a coincidence. 

About 5.5 million people are registered to vote and long queues have been reported outside polling stations. The African country is looking to turn the page after nearly four decades of repressive rule and economic chaos under its founding president.

Monday’s vote pits President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s successor and former enforcer who now says he represents change, against Nelson Chamisa. He's a 40-year-old lawyer who is vying to become Zimbabwe's youngest head of state.

Chamisa said there was an attempt to "suppress and frustrate" the vote on Monday in urban areas where he has strong support. He offered no evidence to support his claim and there was no immediate comment from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

Still stirring the political waters, the 94-year-old ex-leader has refused to back his own ZANU-PF party who ousted him in November's de facto coup, when the country’s military generals took control and put Mnangagwa into power. Mugabe is thought to have wanted his wife Grace to take over.

"I was sacked, from the party I founded. I cannot vote for those who have tormented me," said Mugabe, who came to power after independence in 1980.

The lack of support from his old boss now has Mnangagwa accusing Mugabe of striking a deal with his main rival.

"The choice is clear: You either work for Mugabe under the guise of Chamisa, or you work for a new Zimbabwe under my leadership and the ZANU-PF. Real change is coming," he said.

Mnangagwa – known as “the Crocodile” for his political wiliness – has survived several assassination attempts blamed on Mugabe supporters. Despite the violence, the 75-year-old has spoken about the need for a "democratic space" and is promising economic reforms and jobs.

Meanwhile Nelson Chamisa, who is leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and is standing out among over 20 other presidential candidates is promoting himself as a unifying force and business friendly.

"If anything, my biggest task is to make sure that I unite this nation going forward.I must not be gazing into the past," Chamisa said.

Above all, voters who are enjoying a new-found freedom not felt under the iron fist of Mugabe, want to see a free and fair election.

The opposition has repeatedly alleged irregularities in the register of voters. Hundreds of international observers are in the country to check on proceedings.

Many people also wonder if Zimbabwe's establishment, for so long in power, will ever accept an opposition victory.

Opinion polls give Mnangagwa a narrow lead over Chamisa. If no candidate wins more than half the votes a runoff will take place on September 8.

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