Zimbabwe Votes Amid Questions About Election’s Credibility

Delays plagued the beginning of voting in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, in an election that human rights groups say has been tainted from the start.

(Bloomberg) — Delays plagued the beginning of voting in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, in an election that human rights groups say has been tainted from the start. 

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to be reelected despite a long-running economic crisis in the resource-rich country that has led to the near-collapse of government services. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the government of undermining civil liberties over the past five years and closing the political space for the opposition.

The 80-year-old praised turnout as he cast his ballot in his rural constituency. “This time around, there was more awareness,” he told reporters. 

Over three-quarters of polling stations in the capital, Harare, and others in the second largest city Bulawayo opened late as observers criticized the slow delivery of ballot papers. 

“We were assured that material is going” to be available “in all the polling stations way ahead of this morning,” Nevers Mumba, head of the Southern African Development Community observer mission, told reporters. “That is one aspect we are going to interrogate during this process.”

After casting his ballot in Harare, Nelson Chamisa criticized the election’s conduct but expressed confidence in his chances. “There is going to be a new leader, a new president, a new government,” he told reporters. “We are winning this election, we have won this election. They know it. That is why they are panicking.”

Chamisa, who continues to dispute the results of the 2018 vote, and his party, the Citizens Coalition for Change, have had to file lawsuits to keep its members on the ballot. Another opposition party boycotted the polls, after scores of its candidates were disqualified, and many observers believe the election was over before it even began. 

Read more: Odds Stacked Against Zimbabwe Opposition as Election Nears 

Winning a tainted vote may derail efforts by Mnangagwa, who’s held power since longtime ruler Robert Mugabe was ousted in a 2017 coup, to restructure the nation’s $18 billion of debt arrears. Creditors including the African Development Bank have warned that any deal would be contingent on a credible contest.

The incumbent has insisted that the vote will be free and fair and has vowed he will not serve beyond a constitutionally-mandated second term, should he win. His Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front has ruled the country since independence from the UK in 1980. 

By early afternoon, there were no reports of major violence, which tends to accompany every Zimbabwean election. 

The southern African country has 6.6 million registered voters, 83% of whom are eligible to vote, according to Priscila Chigumba, chairwoman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Voters will also elect 210 members of the National Assembly and 80 senators.

(Updates with details throughout)

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