Harare, Zimbabwe – President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised to build an “open” and “prosperous” Zimbabwe on the last day of election campaigning, just as his closest challenger Nelson Chamisa told supporters that “victory was certain”.
Zimbabweans will head to the polls on Monday in the first election in nearly four decades where the name of long-time leader Robert Mugabe will not be on the ballot form.
A total of 23 presidential hopefuls are vying for Zimbabwe’s top seat. The results are expected to be released by August 4. If no candidate wins 50 percent plus one of the votes, a runoff will be held on September 8.
As campaigning drew to a close on Saturday, Mnangagwa, of the ruling ZANU-PF party, and Chamisa, of the main opposition MDC alliance, held rival rallies in front of enthusiastic crowds in the capital, Harare.
Tens of thousands of ZANU-PF supporters gathered at the National Sports Stadium, with many arriving by bus from areas outside Harare.
At the venue’s gates, vendors were hard at work selling food and beverages, while supporters were given free t-shirts and caps bearing Mnangagwa’s image.
“We are in a new era and we are resolute in our endeavour to build a modernised Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa told the crowd.
The 75-year-old became president in November 2017 after an intervention by the country’s military which led to the eventual resignation of 94-year-old Mugabe, who spent 37 years in office.
“We will build our new Zimbabwe on the basis of peace love and harmony,” said Mnangagwa. “We want peace unity and harmony among our people,” he added.
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Meanwhile, on the other side of Harare, thousands of MDC supporters clad in the party’s red gathered at Robert Mugabe Square – referred to as Freedom Square by opposition supporters – to attend Chamisa’s final rally.
The crowd, mainly from Harare, was full of young people who often broke into dance and song. Unlike the ZANU-PF rally, there was no free merchandise, but that did not dampen the festive mood.
“Two days from now we are the next government,” 40-year-old Chamisa said, to a thunderous applause from his supporters.
“We are the winners. No doubt. There is no runoff in Zimbabwe. There is a run over Mnangagwa,” he added.
“People are voting for change, people are voting for the new, people are voting for the young, people are voting for a new Zimbabwe in authentic and genuine terms.”
Both Mnangagwa and Chamisa promised to their supporters that they will transform the country’s economy which has been in paralysis for two decades.
The southern African country’s currency – the Zimbabwean dollar – collapsed in 2009 amid sky-high inflation.
Despite the leading candidates’ pledges, experts say that reviving the country’s economic fortunes will be a hard task that will take time.
“Fixing the economy will not be an overnight job, whoever comes into office needs to know there is no instant fix,” Takura Zhangazha, a Harare-based economist, told Al Jazeera.
“Zimbabwe has high government expenditure. The government is spending way more than it has and this problem has to be addressed if the huge external debt is to be contained,” he added.
More than five million Zimbabweans have registered to take part in the elections. At least 60 percent of the registered voters are under 40.
Previous polls in the country of 16 million people were marred by violence and intimidation but campaigning has so far been relatively peaceful.
And for the first time since 2002 international observers have been invited to oversee the closely contested polls.
A recent survey of 2,400 people by research organisation Afrobarometer placed Mnangagwa on 40 percent and Chamisa on 37 percent, and 20 percent of those surveyed were undecided.
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