Zimbabwe on August 23 stages its ninth general election since independence from Britain in April 1980 and its second since Robert Mugabe, the liberation leader turned strongman president, was ousted in a coup by the now incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The vote is tantamount to a referendum on Mnangagwa, who is seeking a second term after, critics say, failing to steady the economy and stem inflation, or halt the flight of its people, including a crippling “brain drain” of educated professionals.
Elections in the southern African nation are held after every five years. Polling begins at 7am Zimbabwe time, ending at 7pm on the same day but everyone who would be on the queue by that time would be allowed to vote. Counting of ballots begins as soon as polling stations close in the presence of observers, journalists, police and contesting parties' representatives.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) registered a little over 6.6mn people who will elect a president, 210 legislators and about 1,878 councillors. The ruling party, Zanu-PF won 92 uncontested after all opposition parties failed to field candidates in the areas. Eighty senators and 60 women who will sit in the lower chamber will be elected by proportional representation.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 80, is seeking a second successive five-year term. In government in various capacities over the past 43 years, he faces 10 challengers. He assumed the presidency in November 2017 following a coup that toppled his former boss, Robert Mugabe who had ruled for 37 years. In terms of the constitution, Mnangagwa had to finish Mugabe's term before he faced election in July 2018.
The biggest threat to his bid for a fresh mandate, as was the case five years ago, will be Nelson Chamisa who leads the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) which he launched in January 2022. In 2018 the former secured 51.44% of the vote, while the latter, as leader of the Movement for Democratic Change - Alliance (MDC-A), won 45.04%.
Chamisa draws most of his support from urban areas, while Mnangagwa dominates in rural areas. The frontrunners, together, with two other presidential aspirants, Lovemore Madhuku (National Constitutional Assembly leader) and Douglas Mwonzora (of the MDC without the A) are lawyers.
Mnangagwa's party won 179 seats out of 210 contested seats in 2018 with MDC-A under Chamisa winning 88. His new party contested in by-elections in 2022, winning 19 seats.
There is only one female presidential aspirant, Elisabeth Valerio, down from four in 2018.
Meanwhile, police have in recent months shut down dozens of rallies of the CCC and arrested scores of its supporters.
Likely key issues
The state of the economy will likely top the issues that voters will consider when they make their choices. The local currency was trading at 671 to the greenback in January 2023, but had, on August 21, collapsed to 4,571, according to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Year-on-year inflation peaked at 176% in June 2023, but decelerated to 101% in July, the same level it was seven months earlier. The country is some $18bn in debt and cannot get international loans due to political instability. Employment is hard to come by, with economists estimating that 90% of work is informal.
High-level corruption could be an issue too, after an Al Jazeera expose in April 2023 accusing some in Mnangagwa's inner circle of gold smuggling and money laundering.
Mnangagwa, on his part, has been touting the more than 7,000 public infrastructure development projects his government has implemented since 2018. They include the construction of schools, hospitals, roads, dams, communal irrigation schemes, airports and colleges.
Zimbabwe, in 2022 produced its biggest wheat harvest in its history and in 2023, it will, for the first time since 2000, export maize/corn after harvesting up to 2.3mn tonnes, which is higher than national demand. By March 2023, his government said locally manufactured products were occupying 80% of the shelf space, indicating a recovery in local industrial production from almost 20% some five years ago.
Courts flooded with pre-election disputes
The run-up to the election has been marred by multiple court cases, with Business Day, a South African paper reporting on August 19 that there were a total of 133 cases as of that date.
The standout case was a July 28 decision by the Supreme Court to uphold a High Court ruling disqualifying a former ruling party heavyweight, Saviour Kasukuwere, from running for the presidency. It said he, in exile since the coup in 2017, cannot stand for election as he had, by nomination day on June 21, 2023, not been "ordinarily" resident in Zimbabwe for the previous 18 months. He approached the Constitutional Court which rejected his appeal on August 8.
On July 27, the High Court disqualified 12 CCC prospective parliamentary candidates for filing their nomination papers after the close of business. The dozen appealed and the Supreme Court ruled in their favour a week later.
Valerio sued ZEC for rejecting her nomination papers saying she had failed to prove she had paid the $20,000 nomination fee. On July 19, the High Court ruled in her favour.
On July 31, the High Court dismissed an application by 87 MDC prospective parliamentary candidates, saying they had failed to pay the required nomination fee on time. A week later, party president Mwonzora pulled out of the race over the disqualifications, but ZEC said his name will still appear on the ballot paper as his withdrawal was late.
How will election results be announced?
All results will be posted outside every polling station nationwide. ZEC officials will officially announce the results at the district level after the collation of returns from other polling stations.
However, the presidential election result is announced by the ZEC chairperson, or anyone designated to do so, at the national level as the law recognises the whole of Zimbabw as one constituency when it comes to the presidential election.
How does a presidential candidate win?
For one to be declared winner, he or she must have received more than 50% of the votes. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, a run-off will be held between the two leading candidates within 28 and 42 days of the initial election. In this case, the president recently fixed October 2 as the date for a run-off if none of the 11 secures 50% plus one vote.
How do the leading candidates see their prospects?
Mnangagwa's party is going into the election without a manifesto, indicating that its record since 2017 is the manifesto. Chamisa launched his party's one on August 8, promising a more democratic and economically prosperous country.
“We are confident of a resounding victory as the Second Republic,” Mnangagwa told the last session of his cabinet on August 21, according to state-owned Chronicle on August 22.
“The unity of purpose and hard work exhibited over the last five years has seen us delivering on our mandate with unprecedented results across the socio-economic spectrum.”
Chamisa held his last campaign rally on August 21 in Harare, the capital where his party draws its most support. He said he is already putting together the country's next cabinet.
"Zimbabwe, our time has come. This is the time!" he told the crowd, AFP reported on August 22.
Election Day is a holiday
The government has designated August 23 a public holiday so people can have enough time to vote. The Public Service Commission said civil servants will, on August 22 work half day.