Harare, Zimbabwe – Vote counting has started in Zimbabwe’s first general election since long-term President Robert Mugabe was pushed out of office last year.
Voter turnout in Monday’s polls was high, according to the election commission, which is expected to release a figure later in the day. More than five million people registered to take part in the closely-contested elections.
The electoral body said 90 percent of the polling stations had opened on time by 8am local time (05:00 GMT).
In the capital, Harare, long queues of voters were formed for several hours prior to the opening of the polls, before easing by mid-afternoon.
Polls closed at 17:00 GMT.
Twenty-three candidates are competing for the presidency, with incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, of ZANU-PF facing stiff competition from the youthful Nelson Chamisa, the 40-year-old leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
|Emmerson Mnangagwa casts his ballot in Kwekwe [Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]|
Previous elections in Zimbabwe were marred by intimidation and threats but campaigning and voting this time have been relatively peaceful.
For the first time since 2002, election observers from the European Union and United States were allowed to monitor the process.
Elmar Brok, the EU‘s chief observer, told Al Jazeera that voting went smoothly in some cases but was disorganised in others.
But the regional body – the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) – said it was satisfied with the vote.
“So far the elections are going well. The voting has been taken, generally, in a peaceful environment and [an] orderly manner,” Manuel Domingos Augusto, Angola‘s external affairs minister, who is part of SADC’s election observation mission, told Al Jazeera.
“We must congratulate, in advance, the people of Zimbabwe. It looks like it will be a free and fair election,” he added.
|Nelson Chamisa cast his ballot in Harare [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]|
Earlier in the day, both Mnangagwa and Chamisa were optimistic and promised to deliver change.
“This country is enjoying democratic space which has never been experienced before,” Mnangagwa said after casting his vote in the central city of Kwekwe.
For his part, Chamisa went a step ahead.
“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,” Chamisa said after voting in Harare, surrounded by enthusiastic supporters.
|Voter turnout was high in the country’s first election since Robert Mugabe was pushed out of office last year [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]|
A presidential runoff will be held on September 8 if a candidate does not secure more than 50 percent of the votes.
Official results are expected to be released by Saturday.
Parliamentary and local elections are also taking place in the southern African country.