Zimbabweans are voting in their first election without Robert Mugabe on the ballot today, after the former dictator yesterday refused to endorse his former party’s candidate.
In his first address to the nation since stepping down in November, the 94-year-old said he would not support Zanu-PF, the ruling party he long controlled, nor President Emmerson Mnangagwa saying: ‘I cannot vote for those who have tormented me.’
Some 5.5 million have registered to vote in today’s election, with the nation anxious for change after decades of economic paralysis and the nearly four-decade rule of Mugabe.
Statement: Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses media during a surprise press conference at his residence ‘Blue Roof ‘ in Harare on Sunday
Long lines of voters have been seen waiting outside some polling stations in Zimbabwe this morning and thousands of election monitors are in the country to observe a process that the opposition says is biased against them.
The two main contenders are 75-year-old President Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who took over from Mugabe last year, and Nelson Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor.
Mr Chamisa became head of the main opposition party after the death of longtime Mugabe challenger Morgan Tsvangirai in February.
In his televised address yesterday Mr Mugabe, who has backed a new political party that is part of a coalition supporting Mr Chamisa, said: ‘He seems to be doing well at his rallies.’
Message: Mugabe, 94, said he would not support Zanu-PF, the ruling party he long controlled, nor President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Candidate: President Mnangagawa, pictured, faces 40-year-old lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa in the crucial election on Monday
Speaking out: Yesterday’s press conference was the first since the former dictatpr was ousted from power in November last year
He added: ‘Whoever wins, we wish him well. And let us accept the verdict.’
President Mnangagwa has urged Zimbabweans to respect the peace at the polls today, saying that ‘We are one people, with one dream and one destiny. We will sink or swim together.’
Many in Zimbabwe knew no other leader but Mr Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years and since independence from white minority rule in 1980.
What began with optimism crumbled into repression, alleged vote-rigging, intimidation of the opposition, violent land seizures from white farmers and years of international sanctions.
Taking sides: Mr Mugabe has backed a new political party that is part of a coalition supporting Mr Chamisa. Pictured: The former dictator and his wife, Grace
The country hopes a credible vote today could get the sanctions lifted and bring badly needed investment for a collapsed economy.
Mr Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe confidante, has tried to recast himself as a voice for reform, inviting back dozens of election observers and pledging a free and fair vote.
‘I have during all this time liked our return to conditionality, our return to legality, an environment in which our people are free,’ Mr Mugabe told reporters.
But he blamed ‘evil and malicious characters’ for his removal from power, which was met with a joyous outpouring by thousands in the capital, Harare. He said he resigned to avoid ‘bloodshed’.