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Zimbabweans Anxiously Await Election Results, Armed Police on Standby

Armed riot police prepare to be deployed on the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday, Aug. 25, 2023.

HARARE — Zimbabweans waited anxiously Friday for the outcome of general elections as dozens of armed police with water cannons guarded the national results center, the scene of deadly violence after the previous vote five years ago.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said it was still verifying results from close to 12,500 polling stations across the country and could start releasing details Friday. Results in the presidential balloting are not expected for several days.

Zimbabwe’s long history of disputed elections has left many wary of official results.

Voting closed Thursday after delays in distributing ballot papers in the capital, Harare, and other urban areas prompted President Emmerson Mnangagwa to extend voting by a day. Many voters slept outside polling stations in urban areas that are opposition strongholds to cast their ballots.

Mnangagwa, 80, is seeking a second and final five-year term but faces a major challenge from Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor whom he narrowly defeated in the disputed 2018 election.

FILE - Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa casts his vote at a polling station in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023.
FILE - Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa casts his vote at a polling station in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023.

This is the second general election since the ouster of longtime repressive ruler Robert Mugabe in a coup in 2017. It will select the president, 350-member parliament and close to 2,000 council seats countrywide. More than 6 million people were registered to vote, though turnout hasn’t been announced.

Police on Thursday said they arrested 41 workers with two accredited poll monitoring groups, the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and the Election Resource Center, and seized their computers. Police accused them of “subversive and criminal activities” as part of an opposition plan to fabricate the results.

But the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the workers were carrying out their mandate as election observers.

The elections have been tainted by allegations of violence, intimidation and accusations by the opposition and human rights groups that Mnangagwa used the police and the courts to silence dissent, amid rising tensions due to a currency crisis, a sharp hike in food prices, a weakening public health system and inadequate numbers of formal jobs.

Both Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF party, which has ruled for decades, and Chamisa’s Citizens Coalition for Change parties said they were headed for victory.

“It’s a decisive win!” Chamisa said on social media.

“ZANU-PF takes early poll lead,” the state-run Herald newspaper said Friday, basing its report on a few parliamentary results announced Thursday.

The elections body has asked people to be patient and wait for official results.

The situation remained calm in the capital and no major unrest was reported in other parts of the country.

But dozens of police with batons, tear gas canisters and guns stood guard along with water cannons next to the results center. Others manned steel barricades on major roads leading to the center.

After the last elections, the government deployed soldiers to put down protests at the results center and elsewhere in the city. Soldiers fired live rounds, killing six people. The protests were over delays in the announcement of presidential results and fears of election rigging.