Zimbabwe voting in PICTURES

Zimbabweans cast their ballots Monday in the country’s first election since authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe was ousted last year, with concerns over fraud and the likelihood of a disputed result clouding voting day.

A woman carrying her baby casts her ballot in a polling station located in the suburb of Mbare in Zimbabwe's capital Harare, on July 30, 2018. - Zimbabwe goes to the polls in its first election since authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe was ousted last year, with allegations mounting of voter fraud and predictions of a disputed result. (Photo by LUIS TATO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman carrying her baby casts her ballot in a polling station located in the suburb of Mbare in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, on July 30, 2018. – Zimbabwe goes to the polls in its first election since authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe was ousted last year, with allegations mounting of voter fraud and predictions of a disputed result. (Photo by LUIS TATO/AFP/Getty Images)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former ally in the ruling ZANU-PF party, faces opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) in a historic vote for the southern African nation.

Long lines formed from early morning outside polling stations in the capital Harare.

“I just have to do this. I have to see a better Zimbabwe for my kids. Things have been tough,” Tawanda Petru, 28, an unemployed man voting in Mbare, a low-income district of Harare, told AFP.

People queue early morning on July 30, 2018 at a polling station in the Harare suburb of Chitungwiza during Zimbabwe's 2018 general elections to elect the president and members of Parliament. (Photo by ALEX MCBRIDE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX MCBRIDE/AFP/Getty Images)
People queue early morning on July 30, 2018 at a polling station in the Harare suburb of Chitungwiza during Zimbabwe’s 2018 general elections to elect the president and members of Parliament. (Photo by ALEX MCBRIDE/AFP/Getty Images)

“I’m going to vote for Chamisa, for change. I am not afraid, I can tell you.”

Mugabe, 94, who was ousted by the military in November, made a surprise intervention on election eve, calling for voters to throw ZANU-PF out of office.

Zimbabwe’s generals shocked the world last year when they seized control and ushered Mnangagwa to power after Mugabe allegedly tried to position his wife Grace to be his successor.

Mnangagwa, 75, who has promised a fresh start despite being from the ZANU-PF elite, is the front-runner with the advantage of covert military support, a loyal state media and a ruling party that controls government resources.

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Nelson Chamisa casts his vote at polling station during Zimbabwe General Elections on July 30, 2018 in Harare. (Photo by Zinyange AUNTONY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP/Getty Images)
Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Nelson Chamisa casts his vote at polling station during Zimbabwe General Elections on July 30, 2018 in Harare. (Photo by ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP/Getty Images)

But Chamisa, 40, who has performed strongly on the campaign trail, hopes to tap into a young population that could vote for change.

“I have no doubt that by the end of the day today we should be very clear as to an emphatic voice for change, the new, and the young — I represent that,” Chamisa said as he voted in Harare, supported by chanting supporters.

He again raised fraud allegations, saying “in the rural areas… if the ballot is a genuine one, not a fake one, victory is certain.”

HARARE, ZIMBABWE - JULY 30: Voters queue at a polling station in the Mbare district on July 30, 2018 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans are going to the polls to vote for a new president after Robert Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years, was deposed in November 2017. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
HARARE, ZIMBABWE – JULY 30: Voters queue at a polling station in the Mbare district on July 30, 2018 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans are going to the polls to vote for a new president after Robert Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years, was deposed in November 2017. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The election is Zimbabwe’s first without Mugabe, who led ZANU-PF to power in a vote when the country became independent from Britain in 1980 and held office for 37 years.

Speaking at his mansion on Sunday, Mugabe — who ruled with an iron grip — said he hoped the election would end “the military form of government”.

Former Zimbabwean Leader President Robert Mugabe casts his vote at a polling station in Harare, Zimbabwe, Monday, July 30, 2018. Zimbabweans are voting in their first election without Robert Mugabe on the ballot, and with some 5.5 million people registered to vote.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Former Zimbabwean Leader President Robert Mugabe casts his vote at a polling station in Harare, Zimbabwe, Monday, July 30, 2018. Zimbabweans are voting in their first election without Robert Mugabe on the ballot, and with some 5.5 million people registered to vote.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

“I cannot vote for those who tormented me,” Mugabe said, hinting he could vote for MDC — a suggestion that underlined Zimbabwe’s haywire political scene since his fall.

Mnangagwa, voting in his Kwekwe constituency in central Zimbabwe, said Mugabe had the right to express his mind under the new democracy.

“I am very happy that the process for campaign was peaceful (and) voting today is peaceful,” the current president added.

– A clean vote? –

Elections under Mugabe were marred by fraud and often deadly violence, and this year’s campaign has been dogged by accusations the result will be rigged.

An elections officer applies indelible ink to a voter finger during early morning voting in Kwekwe as Zimbabwe conducts a general election. Picture: Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)
An elections officer applies indelible ink to a voter finger during early morning voting in Kwekwe as Zimbabwe conducts a general election. Picture: Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)

The MDC has raised repeated allegations of a flawed electoral roll, ballot paper malpractice, voter intimidation, bias in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and free food handed out by the ruling party.

But campaigning has been relatively unrestricted and peaceful.

A recent Afrobarometer survey of 2,400 people put Mnangagwa on 40 percent and Chamisa on 37 percent, with 20 percent undecided — though polling accuracy in Zimbabwe is uncertain.

A voter arrives at a polling station during early morning voting in Kwekwe as Zimbabwe conducts a general election. (Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)
A voter arrives at a polling station during early morning voting in Kwekwe as Zimbabwe conducts a general election. (Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)

Mnangagwa, who is accused of involvement in election violence and fraud under Mugabe, invited international observers — including the previously-banned European Union team — to the poll.

The EU team will deliver a preliminary report later in the week.

– Desperate for investment –

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of alleged intimidation and threats of violence in the run-up to polling day, but said it was encouraging to see open rallies and peaceful demonstrations.

View from the David Livingstone primary school polling station (Picture by Reuters)
View from the David Livingstone primary school polling station (Picture by Reuters)

The next government must tackle mass unemployment and an economy shattered by the Mugabe-backed seizure of white-owned farms, the collapse of agriculture, hyperinflation and an investment exodus.

Previously solid health and education services are in ruins and millions have fled abroad to seek work.

Life expectancy has only just recovered to its 1985 level of 61 years.

“The governing ZANU-PF party needs to maintain a semblance of free and fair elections in order to attract fresh foreign investment,” said the London-based EXX Africa business risk consultancy.

“However, there remain serious concerns over vote credibility.”

With 5.6 million registered voters, the results of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections are due by August 4.

Zimbabweans queue to vote in Harare, Zimbabwe, at the start of the country’s elections Monday, July 30, 2018. Zimbabweans are voting in their first election without Robert Mugabe on the ballot, a contest that could open the way toward international legitimacy or signal more stagnation if the vote is seriously flawed. (AP Photo/Shepherd Tozvireva)
Zimbabweans queue to vote in Harare, Zimbabwe, at the start of the country’s elections Monday, July 30, 2018. Zimbabweans are voting in their first election without Robert Mugabe on the ballot, a contest that could open the way toward international legitimacy or signal more stagnation if the vote is seriously flawed. (AP Photo/Shepherd Tozvireva)
Zimbabweans line up to vote at the Fitchela primary school in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, Monday, July 30, 2018. The vote will be a first for the southern African nation following a military takeover and the ousting of former longterm leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Zimbabweans line up to vote at the Fitchela primary school in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, Monday, July 30, 2018. The vote will be a first for the southern African nation following a military takeover and the ousting of former longterm leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A run-off vote is scheduled for September 8 if no presidential candidate wins at least 50 percent in the first round. Election day was declared a public holiday. Polling closes at 7:00pm (1700 GMT), with anyone in line at that time still allowed to vote. AFP