Zimbabwe sets August 23 for presidential elections

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. PHOTO | COURTESY

Zimbabwe on Wednesday set the date for presidential elections, renewing the prospect of a battle between the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition hopeful Nelson Chamisa.

Elections for the president, National Assembly and local government will take place on August 23, the government's official record, the gazette, said.

Eighty-year-old Mnangagwa, who replaced strongman ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017 after a military-led coup, heads the ruling ZANU-PF party, which has been in power since independence in 1980.

His main challenger is Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor, who leads the recently formed Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party and narrowly lost to Mnangagwa in 2018.

Analysts are bracing for a tense ballot in a country where discontent at entrenched poverty, power cuts and other shortages runs deep.

Rights groups and opposition parties have complained of a clampdown ahead of the vote.

After the election date was revealed, the CCC urged supporters to register to vote. 

"This is a crucial step in playing your part in shaping the future of our country," the party said on Twitter. 

In 2018 Mnangagwa, dubbed "the Crocodile" for his political cunning, won a violence-stained election with 50.8 percent of the vote. 

The result was denounced as fraud by Chamisa, who at the time led the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance (MDC-Alliance).

The ruling party won 145 out of 210 seats contested in the lower house, the National Assembly, which are directly elected on a first-past-the-post basis. 

The MDC-Alliance got 63 seats, and two seats were taken by independents.

Another 60 seats are reserved for women appointed through a party-list system of proportional representation.

The senate comprises 80 members with 60 appointed through proportional representation, 18 traditional chiefs who are generally loyal to ZANU-PF, and two representatives of people with disabilities.

Uphill battle

Analysts say Chamisa faces an uphill battle to defeat Mnangagwa.

Critics accuse the government of using the courts to sideline opposition politicians and say there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests and repression of rights groups. 

Some have also raised fears of voting irregularities.

Earlier this week the CCC cried foul after many voters, including some senior politicians, said their names had been removed or misplaced on the electoral roll.

In March, activists said an analysis of redrawn electoral boundaries showed some wards to be located in Antarctica. 

Tafadzwa Sambiri, a spokesman for Team Pachedu, a pressure group, told AFP the country was "not ready" to head to the polls.

"It's one thing to have an election date set but another to actually conduct a free and fair election," Sambiri said.

Zimbabwe, a country landlocked between Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, has a population of 15 million, according to the latest census.

It has long suffered from hyperinflation, which has shot through the roof in recent weeks. Analysts estimate it at somewhere around 700 percent, way over the official rate of more than 280 percent.

The country is ranked 137th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2022 World Press Freedom Index, and 157th out of 180 countries by Transparency International for perceived corruption.