Harare, Zimbabwe – Millions of Zimbabweans are heading to the polls to vote in the country’s first elections since independence in 1980 without the name of long-time leader Robert Mugabe on the ballot.
Polling stations opened at 7am local time (05:00 GMT) on Monday and will close at 7pm (17:00 GMT).
More than five million Zimbabweans have registered to take part in the landmark elections and pick their next president and members of parliament. A total of 10,985 polling stations have been set up across the country.
Twenty-three candidates, 19 men and four women, are running for the presidency – all for the first time. The figure marks the highest number of presidential hopefuls since the end of white-minority rule in the country of 16 million people.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, of the ruling ZANU-PF party, and Nelson Chamisa, of the MDC Alliance, are seen as the top two contenders.
A presidential runoff will be held on September 8 if none of the candidates secures more than 50 percent of the votes.
Official results are expected to be released by Saturday.
|Voters stand in line at a polling station in Harare [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]|
Mugabe breaks silence
Previous elections in Zimbabwe were marred by intimidation and threats but campaigning this time has been relatively peaceful.
Elections observers from the European Unionand the United States have also been allowed to monitor the vote – the first time since 2002.
Mugabe, who ruled the landlocked southern African country for nearly four decades, was forced to resign in November 2017 following an intervention by the army.
Days before the army’s move, Mugabe had dismissed his then vice president and close aide Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The 75-year-old Mnangagwa was later named ZANU-PF leader and was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president.
On the eve of the vote, Mugabe said he would not back his successor in the polls, accusing the ruling party’s leadership of “tormenting him”.
“I can’t vote for ZANU-PF. I can’t vote for those in power. I can’t vote for those who brought me into this state,” Mugabe, 94, told reporters gathered at his residence in the capital, Harare, on Sunday.
Mugabe said he would vote for 40-year-old Chamisa.