Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised a “thunderous victory” as he and main challenger Nelson Chamisa rallied supporters one last time ahead of Monday’s election in a country seeking to move past decades of economic and political paralysis.
The vote will be a first for the southern African nation: Long-time leader Robert Mugabe will not be on the ballot after resigning in November following a military takeover and pressure from the ruling ZANU-PF party that once backed him.
The majority of Zimbabwe’s five million voters grew up under Mr Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
Supporters of 75-year-old Mr Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe deputy, and 40-year-old Mr Chamisa, leader of the opposition MDC party, rallied on Saturday in Harare, the capital.
“We have opened the country to the world,” Mr Mnangagwa declared on Saturday, claiming that hundreds of investors had poured in to the country since he took office with billions of dollars in commitments.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Friday, Mr Chamisa alleged that Zimbabwe’s electoral commission is biased in favour of Mr Mnangagwa, which the president and the commission deny. Mr Chamisa vowed to hold peaceful protests if the election is flawed.
Past elections under Mr Mugabe were marred by violence and intimidation against the opposition and by alleged vote-rigging. Foreign observers were shunned.
“We are aware of the issues that have been raised by opposition parties, however we hope that the elections will be free and fair,” US Senator Jeff Flake told reporters. Concerns have focused on the military’s influence, especially in rural areas, and on the lack of transparency in the voters’ roll and ballot paper.
When asked whether Mr Mnangagwa was better than Mugabe, Mr Flake replied: “No comment. That’s pretty low-bar.”
Mr Mnangagwa himself remains under US sanctions.