(GIN) – Polls opened in Zimbabwe this week against a backdrop of one of the world’s highest rates of inflation and an intensifying crackdown on the opposition.
Citizens would vote for council members, members of parliament, and a president. If there was no outright winner in the presidential contest, a run-off would be held six weeks later, on October 2.
Questions are already mounting over how free and fair the ballot will be in a country that is trying to rehabilitate its image.
At a recent rally of Mnangagwa supporters, the President warned the crowd that they would be “lost” if they did not re-elect him in this week’s polls.
“No one will stop us from ruling this country,” he said at the party’s first major rally in the capital. Over 100 buses were organized to ferry people from different provinces for the occasion.
The Zimbabwe electoral commission approved 11 candidates, sharply down from the 23 who ran in the last election in 2018, possibly because each candidate now has to pay $20,000, up from $1,000.
Two men have been at the top of the polls: incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa from the governing Zanu-PF party and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, from the Citizen’s Coalition for Change (CCC)
In 2018, Mr. Chamisa came second, winning approximately 44% of the vote but a court ruling stripped him of the leadership of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), depriving him of access to party assets and state funding.
He formed the CCC in 2022 and remains hugely popular in urban areas and is the main face of the opposition.
“We will fight them in the courts, we will fight them at the ballot box and, if necessary, we will fight them in the streets. We won’t give up because we (…) have the support of the people, but above all God is on our side,” said Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor.
Pledging to rebuild the country around what he calls “citizenocracy”, a democracy based on citizens, Mr. Chamisa said he wanted to restore it on the basis of modernization and reconciliation.
“We are going to move from being a basket case to the breadbasket we once were,” he promised hundreds of delegates from his “Triple C” Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
The cost-of-living crisis continues to be at the core of voters’ concerns, with the last three years having been some of the worst in a decade. In the 12 months leading up to May this year, prices rose by 86.5%, one of the highest annual inflation rates in the world.
Meanwhile, businesses are struggling to cope with crippling power outages and an unstable local currency, which lost 86% of its value between January and early June.