For first time since Mugabe's ouster, Zimbabwe to hold elections in July


People holding Zimbabwean flags celebrate in the streets of Harare after the resignation of Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe on Nov 21, 2017.
People holding Zimbabwean flags celebrate in the streets of Harare after the resignation of Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe on Nov 21, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

HARARE (NYTIMES) - After taking over from ousted President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe six months ago, the country's new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, promised to hold free and fair elections this year.

On Wednesday (May 30), he announced that the vote would take place on July 30.

It will be the first such ballot in a generation that does not include Mugabe, 94, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years. Despite having once proclaimed that "only God will remove me", Mugabe resigned as president in November after lawmakers began impeachment proceedings against him.

With the death of Mugabe's longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai, a former labour leader and prime minister, in February, the new election will pit Mnangagwa, 75, against numerous other opponents. They include Nelson Chamisa, 40, who replaced Tsvangirai as leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party.

"It is going to be a very difficult election," Ibbo Mandaza, a Zimbabwean political analyst and executive director of the Sapes Trust research institute in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, said of the planned elections for president, the National Assembly and local councils.

The governing ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change have dominated primary elections in previous votes, Mandaza said. But 120 sitting lawmakers from the two parties lost in the recent parliamentary primaries.

Breaking with his former boss' tradition, Mnangagwa said he had invited international and regional election observers, including from the European Union and the Commonwealth and representatives from countries that Mugabe deemed enemies of his government.

But Obert Gutu, deputy president of a splinter faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, said he worried about the fairness of the vote. "The electoral playing field is far from being even for all political contestants, particularly the opposition parties," he said.

The July vote has the potential to help transform Zimbabwe's economy, said Tawanda Majoni, the national coordinator at the Information for Development Trust, a media advocacy group - provided that the result is not contested.

"If the ruling post-Mugabe establishment wins to form a government on its own, the results may be contested, meaning that the resulting government may lack legitimacy among key international powers and aid providers," Majoni said.

"If the opposition wins and the current government, in which the military has a high stake, accepts the outcome," he added, "this may also encourage international investors, development agencies and embassies to render substantial economic, social and political support to the new government."

Previous disputed elections have hurt the country's economy. Elections that Mugabe was accused of winning through unorthodox means drew the ire of Western countries, including the United States, which imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe.

In 2008, Mugabe was reported to have lost to Tsvangirai in the first round of voting. The results were then withheld for more than a month before a runoff election was conducted. A brutal campaign of state-sponsored violence that began during the first round of voting left dozens of opposition supporters dead and thousands injured.

The subsequent runoff vote resulted in a unity government that held power until the 2013 elections.

Zimbabweans living abroad will not be able to vote in the July elections, according to a Constitutional Court ruling that was also issued Wednesday.