Zimbabwe heads to the polls on July 30 for first election since Robert Mugabe was forced from power

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is working to improve Zimbabwe’s international relations, has invited foreign observers to monitor the polls

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 6:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 9:07pm

Zimbabwe set its first election of the post-Robert Mugabe era for July 30 in what should be a straight fight between President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The election comes after Mugabe, who ruled the southern African nation for almost 40 years, was forced to step down as president in November.

It will feature European Union monitors for the first time since he expelled Western observers in 2002 after they alleged his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) was guilty of human rights abuses.

ZANU-PF denied the charges and accused the Western nations of interfering in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.

Mnangagwa, 75, who came to power with help from the army after Mugabe’s resignation, will stand as ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate.

Nicknamed “Crocodile” for his secretive and insular demeanour before taking office, Mnangagwa goes into the election with the advantage of incumbency. He has promised to break with Mugabe’s policies.

His main opponent, Nelson Chamisa, 40, heads the Movement for Democratic Change party following the death of former MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February.

The Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that Zimbabweans living abroad cannot vote in the election, as opposition leaders had demanded.

The EU and Zimbabwe signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday to allow European observers to scrutinise the vote.

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They “will also monitor electoral complaints that may be lodged after the elections,” the EU’s ambassador, Philippe Van Damme, said.

The head of the last European Union observer mission, Pierre Schori, was thrown out of Zimbabwe in 2002 on the eve of presidential elections that were condemned as flawed.

In the intervening years the EU did not send missions to other Zimbabwe polls as Mugabe held a firm grip on power until his downfall.

In addition to observing the run-up to the elections and election day itself, the observer mission will also monitor electoral complaints that may be lodged after the elections, the EU mission in Harare said.

Two US-funded pro-democracy groups on Monday also announced they were deploying observers for the first time to watch the Zimbabwe vote.

The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute said they were deploying a joint mission “in response to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s public statements welcoming international observers to monitor the upcoming Zimbabwe elections”.

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Many other smaller opposition parties are expected to stand in the elections.

In March, 94-year-old Mugabe sent shock waves through the party he dominated for decades when he posed in a photo with a retired general who will take on the ruling ZANU-PF in the election.

Mugabe stood beside broadly grinning brigadier-general Ambrose Mutinhiri, the leader of opposition party the National Patriotic Front (NPF), which hopes to unseat the government in the polls.

Despite the NPF’s emergence and the ensuing trepidation at the top of ZANU-PF, the pretender party was unlikely to make significant inroads at the election.

A run-off will be held on September 8 if none of the presidential candidates wins an outright majority, according to Mnangagwa’s proclamation.

Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters