On Wednesday, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that elections to choose a new President and Parliament will be held on July 30. It will be country’s first electoral test since the removal of former autocratic leader Robert Mugabe who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years.
Mnangagwa became President in November last year after a military-led revolt uprooted Mugabe’s rule. Also referred to as Crocodile for his secretive and insular demeanour, Mnangagwa was an ally to Mugabe until the latter sacked him.
“The Zimbabwe election commission is hereby advised to fix Monday the 30th of July as the day of the election of the office of president, the election of members of the house of assembly and election of councillors,” Mnangagwa said in a proclamation, first printed in the official Zimbabwe Government Gazette. Prospective candidates will be registered on June 14.
“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.
Despite having once proclaimed that “only God will remove me,” Mr. Mugabe resigned as president in November after lawmakers began impeachment proceedings against him.
For the first time in 20 years, former Zimbabwe’s political gladiators Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai will be missing from the July ballot. Morgan Tsvangirai is the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader who died from cancer in February this year.
Following the death of Morgan Tsvangirai, Nelson Chamisa (40), was appointed as the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. In the elections this year, Mnangagwa will square off against his main opponent, Nelson and many smaller parties.
A runoff will be held on September 8 if none of the presidential candidates wins an outright majority, according to a proclamation by Mnangagwa.
So far, opposition parties have been campaigning without the previous threats of violence and arrest. More than 5 million of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people have registered to vote.
Elections under Mugabe were marred by corruption, intimidation and violence, but Mnangagwa, a long-time ally of Mugabe has promised to hold a free and fair vote.
After decades of isolation and sanctions, Mnangagwa has invited observers from western countries as part of efforts to re-engage with the international community. The EU (European Union) signed an agreement with Zimbabwe earlier this week in preparation for deploying election observers nationwide.
In a further sign of Zimbabwe’s growing efforts to mend fences with former foes, following Mugabe’s resignation, the country has applied to re-join the Commonwealth.
Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth at the height of violent land seizures when white farmers were evicted in favour of landless black people — a policy that wrecked agriculture and triggered the economic collapse.
The July vote has the potential to help in transforming 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.
According to a Constitutional Court ruling that was issued on Wednesday, Zimbabweans living abroad will not be able to vote in the July elections.