HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabweans on Tuesday awaited the first results from an election that they hope will lift the country out of economic and political stagnation after decades under former leader Robert Mugabe.
Officials neared the end of vote-counting a day after millions of Zimbabweans peacefully cast their ballots in a process closely watched by international monitors, who have yet to announce whether the election was free and fair.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said the first results were expected Tuesday afternoon, with the final tally expected within five days. The turnout varied from 60 to 78 percent with some areas still reporting.
“The atmosphere has remained peaceful” and the commission has not received any major complaints about how the election was conducted, chief Priscilla Chigumba told reporters.
She said she was confident there was no “cheating” and that the commission will respect the will of Zimbabweans: “We will not steal their choice of leaders, we will not subvert their will.” If no presidential candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held Sept. 8.
The two main contenders are 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who has reinvented himself as a candidate for change; and 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who became head of the main opposition party a few months ago, after the death of its leader.
Both candidates issued upbeat assessments of how they did, though said they were waiting for the electoral commission to make the final announcement as required by law.
“I am delighted by the high turnout and citizen engagement so far,” Mnangagwa tweeted.
Chamisa said he had his own results from most of the nearly 11,000 polling stations, though said he would wait for the official tally. “We’ve done exceedingly well,” he tweeted.
More than 5.5 million people were registered to vote in an election featuring a record number of more than 20 presidential candidates and nearly 130 political parties vying for parliamentary seats.
Western election observers were in Zimbabwe, reflecting a freer political environment since the November resignation of Mugabe, who had ruled since independence from white minority rule in 1980. Mugabe, forced out under military pressure, had declared he would not vote for the ruling party he long controlled and called Chamisa the only viable candidate.
There remained concerns about bias in state media coverage of the election, a lack of transparency in ballot printing and reports of intimidation by pro-government local leaders who are supposed to stay neutral.
“I think the best thing is they got to announce the results as early as possible so that everyone will be settled,” said 65-year-old voter Chaka Nyuka in the capital, Harare. “Because people are not yet settled, they’re thinking of too many things. They need a good change. People are looking for that.”
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