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Zimbabwe election: High turnout in first post-Mugabe poll

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Voter turnout has been high in Zimbabwe’s first general election since long-serving ruler Robert Mugabe was ousted, officials say.

Foreign observers have hailed the election as an opportunity for Zimbabwe to break with its repressive past.

The presidential election is expected to be a tight contest between the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa and his main rival Nelson Chamisa.

Parliamentary and local elections are also taking place on Monday.

Opinion polls give Mr Mnangagwa, who heads the ruling Zanu-PF party, a narrow lead over Mr Chamisa, the candidate of the opposition MDC Alliance. Both leaders are running for the presidency for the first time.

On Sunday, Mr Mugabe, who first came to power after independence in 1980, said he would not vote for his successor.

Mr Mugabe, regarded as one of the last “Big Men” of African politics, was forced out of office last November by Mr Mnangagwa with the help of the military.

Polls officially shut at 17:00 GMT but some remained open to allow people already in queues to vote.

A sealed ballot box at David Livingstone Primary School in Harare, Zimbabwe
Image captionWhere voting is finished ballots boxes must be sealed and signed

Counting begins at polling stations overnight and official results are expected within five days. A run-off election will be held on 8 September should none of the 23 candidates win more than 50% of the votes.

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An air of optimism

By Pumza Fihlani, BBC News

In Domboshawa village, about an hour’s car drive from the capital, Harare, many had been in the queue even before sunrise.

The first group of voters were mainly elderly people but there were some youngsters too. Surrounded by mountains and rolling hills, the villagers were in good spirits, chatting and laughing, as they waited to vote in a primary school that had been converted into a polling station.

Having covered the 2008 and 2013 election, I met families who shared horrid stories of assault and intimidation for pledging allegiance to any party other than Zanu-PF.

But there is an air of optimism about this election. “This election is different, there hasn’t been violence. It’s a good sign,” one voter told me.

After casting his vote, he said his prayer was that whoever wins, puts Zimbabwe first. “We have suffered enough,” he said as as he walked off on to the winding dirt road. Another voter said: “I am voting to express my freedom. That’s something I have not been able to do since 1980.”

The fact that people in Zimbabwe now freely talk about politics, regardless of who they support, speaks to a new order here. Many pray the peace will hold when the winner is announced.

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How were candidates received at polling stations?

Crowds whistled and broke into chants of “Chamisa” when the 40-year-old MDC leader cast his ballot on the outskirts of Harare, amidst a media scrum.

Zimbabwe"s opposition leader Nelson Chamisa (C) arrives to cast his vote amid singing crowd at a polling station in Harare during Zimbabwe General Elections on July 30, 2018.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionNelson Chamisa hopes to become Zimbabwe’s youngest president

“We will win this election to the extent it’s free and fair… it’s a done deal,” he told the BBC.

In contrast, Mr Mnangagwa, thought to be 75, voted in a quiet polling station at a school in the central city of Kwekwe.

At one stage, he was seen taking his head out of the voting booth to check where he should put his cross on the ballot.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa checks his papers as he casts his ballot to vote in the country"s general election, at Sherwood Park Primary School in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe July 30, 2018.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionPresident Emmerson Mnangagwa is trying to rebuild Zimbabwe’s credibility in the West

He tweeted that Zimbabweans should vote with “peace in our hearts”.

“We will sink or swim together,” he added.

Who make up most of the voters?

The country is expecting a high turnout of first-time voters. Younger voters are expected to be key – almost half of those registered are under the age of 35.

More than 5,6 million Zimbabweans are registered.

People had to re-register for this year’s poll as the electoral commission introduced a biometric system to eliminate any “ghost voters” – though the opposition still alleges there are irregularities in the voters’ roll.

Election officials sit at the table after providing a voter with ballot paper during country"s general elections in Harare, Zimbabwe, 30 July 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionVoting continued after dark in some areas

The Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) says it will deliver a credible poll and that voter turnout has been high.

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