Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his main opponent Nelson Chamisa both said on Tuesday they were confident of victory, after peaceful voting in the first election since the end of Robert Mugabe’s nearly four decade rule.
Mnangagwa, 75, a long-serving security chief who took power after Mugabe was toppled in a de facto coup in November, said he was receiving “extremely positive” information on the vote. Chamisa, 40, said his opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had done “exceedingly well”.
Western diplomats and local observer groups said the race, which saw a turnout of 75 percent, was too close to call.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said there was no rigging or cheating in the vote. Local observer group Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said there were concerns about ZEC’s independence in the run-up to Monday’s election.
ZESN, however, said in its preliminary report the vote was better organized than previous years.
ZEC is expected to begin announcing results from 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) but the final outcome may not be known until Aug. 4.
As well as electing a president, Zimbabweans were voting for 210 members of parliament and more than 9,000 councillors.
Holding a peaceful vote that is accepted as fair at home and abroad is essential if Zimbabwe is to exit painful sanctions and secure the donor funding and investment needed to stem chronic cash shortages. Several elections under Mugabe saw rigging and violence as his ruling ZANU-PF party clung onto power.
The winner faces the task of putting Zimbabwe back on track after 37 years under Mugabe, tainted by corruption, mismanagement and diplomatic isolation that caused a crisis in a country that once had one of Africa’s most promising economies.
Sources among election monitors said Monday’s vote appeared to have passed without major foul play, although they noted some coercion and intimidation of voters in rural areas by ZANU-PF and said state media was biased toward the ruling party.
Chamisa complained ahead of the vote about the independence of the ZEC and said voters were being suppressed in urban areas where he is popular. ZANU-PF has denied any misconduct.
Whatever the outcome, there is still a potential for unrest. If the MDC loses and contests the result there could be street protests with a potential for violence, and a protracted legal process that could stunt economic reforms.
Should Mnangagwa lose, many Zimbabweans fear some in the ruling party may not accept the result, particularly given the huge risk they took in removing Mugabe.
Mnangagwa was viewed as the front runner, although the latest opinion polls showed a tight race. There will be a runoff on Sept. 8 if no candidate wins more than half the votes.
“The information from our representatives on the ground is extremely positive!” Mnangagwa said on his official Twitter feed.
Chamisa had earlier said he was poised for victory, writing on Twitter: “Awaiting ZEC to perform their constitutional duty to officially announce the people’s election results and we are ready to form the next government.”
A Chamisa victory is unlikely to sit well with generals who plotted Mugabe’s ouster last November, and there could be a pushback. Some of the military organizers of the coup are now in government, including Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.