Zimbabwe is having its first-ever election without Robert Mugabe, after a wild campaign with fake promises about Trump and a bomb at a campaign rally

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iStock; Mike Hutchings/REUTERS; Luc Gnago/REUTERS; Samantha Lee/Business Insider

  • Millions of Zimbabweans voted for a new president and parliament on Monday.
  • It is the first election in the country’s 38-year history which hasn’t featured Robert Mugabe as a candidate.
  • The main contenders for president are Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current president, and Nelson Chamisa, a former pastor.
  • The election campaign has been wild: Mnangagwa survived an explosion at a campaign rally, and Chamisa lied about meeting Trump and had to apologize.
  • Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF party officially won the parliamentary elections.
  • Results of the presidential election are expected within the next few days.

Vote-counting is underway in Zimbabwe, which is awaiting the conclusion of a wild election campaign which is the first in the nation’s 38-year history not to feature Robert Mugabe.

Millions of Zimbabweans voted for a new president and parliament on Monday, which could also see power shift from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party for the first time ever.

Mugabe, who had been in power since 1980, resigned last November following a dramatic military coup. Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as interim president, and now hopes to secure a term as leader in his own right.

His main contender is Nelson Chamisa, the 45-year-old leader of Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), the largest opposition party Zanu-PF party.

The contest between the two has been full of dramatic moments, including an explosion at a Mnangagwa campaign rally in June, which he said was an attempt by Mugabe loyalists to kill him.

Chamisa has had his share of controversy too, including a string of gaffes which saw him apparently fabricate a meeting with Donald Trump which he claimed could lead to a $15 billion investment in Zimbabwe if he won.

Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare in July.

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Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare in July.
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Dan Kitwood/Getty

The winner is not clear at this moment, although both Mnangagwa and Chamisa have claimed victory already.

Zanu-PF won the majority of seats in parliament, due mostly to the party’s popularity in rural areas, official results showed on Tuesday. Official results for the presidential election are expected by August 4.

Many Zimbabweans have expressed fears that Zanu-PF would not accept the result, given that it had been the ruling party since 1980 and the huge risk it took in removing Mugabe. Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF have both said that they will accept the result.

There will be a run-off election on September 8 if neither candidate wins more than 50% of the votes.

Zanu-PF supporters celebrate in Harare after voting in the country’s first elections without Robert Mugabe as leader.

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Zanu-PF supporters celebrate in Harare after voting in the country’s first elections without Robert Mugabe as leader.
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Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Mugabe’s legacy

Mugabe, who resigned at age 93, left behind a country plagued with corruption and political mismanagement.

He first ascended power as prime minister in 1980, the year Zimbabwe became an independent nation, when Zanu-PF won that year’s general elections.

In 1987, the Mugabe-run parliament amended the constitution, removed the office of prime minister, and made Mugabe president. He also abolished term limits, meaning he could run for office for an unlimited number of times.

During Mugabe’s rule, Zimbabwe’s economy shrunk by more than a third from 2000 to 2008, unemployment skyrocketed to more than 80%, and hyperinflation got so bad that the country had to abandon its own currency for the US dollar.

Meanwhile his wife Grace, known as “Gucci Grace,” gained notoriety for her lavish spending amid her country’s poverty. Mugabe fired Mnangagwa last November in an apparent attempt to smooth the path to presidency for Grace, triggering the military coup that ultimately deposed him.

Robert and Grace in Harare in October 2017.

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Robert and Grace in Harare in October 2017.
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REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The main candidates: Mugabe’s former bodyguard vs the pastor who lied about meeting Trump

Mnangagwa served as Mugabe’s personal assistant and bodyguard before becoming his vice-president and, ultimately, successor. He earned the nickname “The Crocodile” in the 1970s during his time as a guerrilla fighter in Zimbabwe’s liberation war.

Since becoming president, he has pledged to open Zimbabwe’s economy to foreign investment. He has appeared particularly close to China, where he received military training, maintained financial links, and sent one of his sons to study.

In June Mnangagwa survived an explosion at a campaign rally at what he and state media described as an assassination attempt.

Two people died and at least 49 people, including two of Mnangagwa’s deputies, were injured, the BBC reported.

Mnangagwa in December 2017.

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Mnangagwa in December 2017.
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REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Chamisa, 45, is a former Pentecostal pastor. He is relatively new to politics, and has made a few blunders during his presidential campaign already.

According to the BBC, he told a rally earlier this year that he had met Donald Trump, who had “promised” to invest $15 billion (£11.3 billion) into Zimbabwe if his party won Monday’s election. The US refuted that claim and MDC-T officials were reportedly forced to apologize.

Chamisa also claimed that he would marry off his 18-year-old sister to Mnangagwa if Zanu-PF did extraordinarily badly in the polls and got less than 5% of the vote.

He later attempted to justify his statement, saying: “It was just a political banter that I used to illustrate that even if I promised to give him my most prized possession, he would still not be able to defeat us in a free and fair election.”

Unlike his opponent, Chamisa has also pledged to rid his country of investment from China – Zimbabwe’s largest source of investment.

Earlier this year he also promised, if he won, to build a bullet train that would travel from Harare to Bulawayo – major cities 446 km (277 miles) apart – within 35 minutes, meaning it would travel at more than 760 km/h (472 mph). This is impossible with current technology.

Both candidates have also suggested that God was on their side in the election. Chamisa, the former pastor, includes the hashtag #Godisinit in many of his campaign tweets, while Mnangagwa heralded the general election as a “second chance” given by God.

Mugabe on Sunday said he would not be voting for Mnangagwa. It’s not clear whether he voted at all.

A polling station in the Mbare district of Harare.

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A polling station in the Mbare district of Harare.
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Dan Kitwood/Getty

High turnout

Voting on Monday appeared to be mostly peaceful, although Reuters reported some coercion and intimidation by Zanu-PF officials in rural areas, and state media being biased toward Zanu-PF, citing election monitoring sources.

Voter turnout was also at a record high, at 75%. Less than half the population voted in past presidential elections under Mugabe, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ election guide.

The Zanu-PF party almost lost the election once, in 2008, when MDC-T won 47.9% and Zanu-PF 43.2%. Zanu-PF won the subsequent run-off elections in a landslide. Dozens of of MDC-T voters were killed in the months leading to it.