Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – Voting continued into the early hours of Thursday in Zimbabwe’s crucial general election, the second since the exit of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa issued a proclamation on Wednesday evening to permit voting to continue into a second day after delays in delivering ballot papers to many polling units.
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Mnangagwa, 80, is seeking a second term in office. There are 12 candidates running for president, but his main rival is Nelson Chamisa, 45, of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
Ballot counting began at some polling units after voting closed on Wednesday, but in Harare suburbs such as Glen Norah and Kuwadzana, voting had yet to begin as at 7pm (17:00 GMT), which was when the polls were meant to have officially closed.
In several towns and rural areas in the eastern province of Manicaland, voting will also occur on Thursday.
Many stations in the two biggest cities, Harare and Bulawayo, permitted voting into the early hours of Thursday even as some people left the polling units out of frustration at being unable to vote.
First time voter Takunda Mangwiro from Dzivarasekwa in the capital, Harare, had been waiting since 5 am on Wednesday finally got the opportunity to vote on Thursday morning.
“I was so excited when I came to vote yesterday morning only to find that there were no papers … I waited again till midnight only for voting to be postponed to this morning. I finally voted around 10 am and I feel good. I hope my vote makes a difference to the next five years,” he said.
Despite the frustration of late voting, most areas remained calm on Wednesday.
Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is one of the CCC’s vice presidents, described the process as “shambolic”.
“This was already a fatally flawed election, it is now graduating into a farce,” he posted on Wednesday night on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
On Thursday, CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere told reporters the party has had challenges with the release of results from some stations in Harare as officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) claimed they were waiting for authorisation to release results.
Mahere, who is also running for a parliamentary seat, appealed for the release of all results from Hiller Road, a polling station in Harare where only 5 of 13 results have been issued.
“We just want the number that was counted to be the number that was read out. We don’t want them to stuff their postal ballot here, we don’t want them to tinker with the numbers, we don’t want them to abuse our polling agents, we just want a free and fair result,” she said.
Before the election, there had been concerns from human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that the government was seeking to silence dissent. Accreditation was also not granted to many journalists and international observers.
On Wednesday evening, police raided the local election observation data centre run by two watchdogs, the Zimbabwe Election Service Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Center (ERC). All computers and personal phones were confiscated and at least 37 staff conducting election monitoring for both organisations, were arrested.
Roselyn Hanzi from the civil society group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) told Al Jazeera that it was currently negotiating the release of those arrested, but could not comment further on the case.
On the streets, people are back to facing the everyday challenges of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. Long queues are back at the banks as people line up to withdraw cash in the city centre; in the poorer neighborhoods, people have been queuing at boreholes to fetch water even the street markets are teeming with vendors selling their wares.
Soneni Mnkandla, a pensioner and resident of Mzilikazi township in Bulawayo, has gone back to selling tomatoes to support her four grandchildren, but she hopes delivery of the election results will be prompt and positive news for her.
“I want the election results without any delay because I hope the leaders I voted for will do something for my community. The Councillor and the President are the most important to me because they will decide on things such as water, sanitation, and money,” she said.