Zimbabwe’s election, the first since the removal of Robert Mugabe in a de facto coup last year, has in some cases been “very smooth”, in others “totally disorganised”, the European Union chief observer said on Monday, with voting still under way.
Elmar Brok said many voters, particularly young women, had left voting queues in frustration at long delays, and that his mission had not yet reached a conclusion on how to judge the vote.
Voting was due to finish at 1700 GMT.
The main opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa, earlier on Monday said there was an attempt to “suppress and frustrate” the vote in urban areas where he has strong support, without giving any evidence.
Zimbabweans voted on Monday in the first election since former president Robert Mugabe was ousted in a de facto coup, with allegations of voter suppression raising fears of a disputed result.
Nelson Chamisa, the main challenger to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long-time Mugabe ally, gave no evidence for his claim that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was impeding voting in urban areas where he enjoys strong support.
“The people’s will being negated & undetermined due to these deliberate & unnecessary delays,” Chamisa tweeted.
The ZEC was not immediately available to comment. It has denied Chamisa’s previous allegations of bias.
A credible election is essential if Zimbabwe is to exit painful sanctions and secure the donor funding needed to stem chronic cash shortages.
Chamisa said his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would win if there was no “ballot mischief”, making it likely he will challenge the outcome if Mnangagwa prevails, something likely to lead to street protests and possible violence.
Dozens of people were killed ahead of a runoff in 2008 between Mugabe and MDC-founder Morgan Tsvangirai, who died of cancer in February.
While absent from the ballot paper for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe emerged from eight months of obscurity on the eve of the election to announce he would vote for the opposition, surprising former ally Mnangagwa who accused him of striking a deal with Chamisa.
Mugabe, 94, one of the last “Big Men” of African politics, made no comment to reporters as he cast his ballot around lunchtime accompanied by his wife, Grace.
A huge crowd gathered outside, some cheering, many booing.
Mnangagwa denied Mugabe’s claim that the vote would not be free since it was being run by a “military government”.
“I can assure you that this country is enjoying democratic space which has never been experienced before,” Mnangagwa told public television after voting.
Opinion polls give the 75-year-old former intelligence chief only a slim lead over Chamisa, 40.
There will be a runoff on Sept. 8 if no candidate wins more than half the votes.
Nicknamed “the Crocodile”, an animal famed in Zimbabwean lore for stealth and ruthlessness, Mnangagwa, of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), has been president since the military ousted Mugabe in a bloodless coup.