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Zimbabwe votes for first time without Mugabe on ballot

The two main contenders are 75-year-old president Emmerson Mnangagwa and 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa.

Zimbabweans are voting in their first election without Robert Mugabe on the ballot in a contest that could bring international legitimacy and investment or signal more stagnation if the vote is seriously flawed.

About 5.5 million people are registered to vote in the southern African nation, which is anxious for change after economic and political paralysis during the nearly four-decade rule of 94-year-old Mr Mugabe.

Dozens of people waited in line to vote outside many polling stations in Harare, the capital.

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A woman prays at a voting queue in Harare (Shpeherd Tozvireva/AP)

“I want to do this and get on with my business. I am not leaving anything to chance. This is my future,” said Emerina Akenda, a first-time voter.

Thousands of election monitors have fanned out across the country to observe a process that the opposition says is biased against them despite electoral commission assurances that it will be credible.

The two main contenders are 75-year-old president Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who took over after Mr Mugabe stepped down under military pressure last year, 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 Morgan Tsvangirai.

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Nelson Chamisa casts his vote (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Mr Mugabe on Sunday called Mr Chamisa the only viable candidate and rejected Mr Mnangagwa and the ruling party, saying that “I cannot vote for those who have tormented me”.

Piercing whistles and cheers greeted Mr Chamisa as he voted outside Harare, saying that “it’s a great moment for Zimbabwe”.

He said he hoped voting in rural areas, where most of Zimbabwe’s voters are and where the ruling party usually holds sway, will be fair.

Meanwhile, solemn faces greeted Mr Mnangagwa as he arrived with his wife at a rural school in Kwekwe. There was no cheering, and people crossed their arms and watched as he left in his motorcade.

Mr Mnangagwa urged Zimbabweans to be peaceful, tweeting: “We are one people, with one dream and one destiny. We will sink or swim together.”

He voted and called the election peaceful, and he took Mr Mugabe’s criticism in his stride, saying: “He is a citizen … He can engage me anytime.”

A record of more than 20 presidential candidates and nearly 130 political parties are participating.

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Zimbabweans queue to vote in Harare (Shpeherd Tozvireva/AP)

If no presidential candidate wins 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held on September 8.

“This is a critical moment in Zimbabwe’s democratic journey,” said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Liberian president and a leader of one of the international observer missions.

“The elections today provide an opportunity to break with the past,” Ms Sirleaf said at a polling station in a school in Harare.

“The lines and voter enthusiasm we are seeing this morning must be matched by an accurate count and their choice must be honoured.”

Past elections were marred by violence, intimidation and irregularities, but Mr Mnangagwa, a former enforcer for Mr Mugabe who says he now represents change, has promised that this election will be free and fair.

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Police officers outside a polling station in Harare (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

The presence of Western election monitors for the first time in years is an indicator of a freer political environment, though concerns have been raised about state media bias towards the ruling party as well as a lack of transparency with the printing of ballot papers.

Inside polling stations on Monday, voters were given three ballot papers: one for their presidential pick, another for a member of parliament and a third for a local councillor.

Polling officers helped voters put each ballot paper in the right box.

“We need change because we have suffered a lot here,” said 65-year-old Mable Mafaro while voting in Harare.

“We have suffered a lot. That’s all.”

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