Voting in Zimbabwe’s election has been extended by another day after huge delays in the delivery of ballot papers to some wards.
The country’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, issued a decree late on Wednesday to extend voting by another day in 40 wards across Harare, and the provinces of Mashonaland Central and Manicaland, as the government tried to salvage polling that had been described as “shambolic”.
The release read, “Whereas, in terms of Proclamation 4 of 2023, published in Statutory Instrument 85 of 2023 the 23rd of August was fixed as the date of the election to the office of President, the election of members of the National Assembly and election of councillors, that is to say, as the day on which a poll shall be taken if a poll becomes necessary in terms of section 46(17)(c) or 125(4)(b) of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] for the election to the office of President or any such members of the National Assembly or councillors:
“And whereas it has been ascertained that certain polling stations for the wards specified in the Schedule to this proclamation have not opened in the time specified in section 53(1) of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13];
“And whereas, section 53(1) of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] provides that if for good cause shown it is not possible to open a polling station at 7:00 am then the polling station shall be opened at such later time but will be kept open for at least twelve (12) hours continuously on polling day; And whereas it has been noted that for some polling stations in the wards specified in the Schedule to the proclamation this period will overlap into a day that is not a polling day;
“And whereas section 38(4) of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] gives the President power, by further proclamation in the Gazette to alter any day, time or place fixed in terms of subsection (1) or (3) of section 38 and the day, time or place as so altered shall be deemed to have been fixed in terms of the appropriate subsection of section:
“Now, therefore, under and by virtue of the powers vested in the President as aforesaid, I do, by this proclamation in respect of the affected polling stations for the wards listed in the Schedule to this Proclamation fix the 24th of August, 2023, as the last day of polling for the election to the office of President, the election of members of the National Assembly and election of councillors.
“Given under my hand and the Public Seal of Zimbabwe at Harare, this 23rd day of August, in the year of Our Lord two thousand and twenty-three.”
There were long delays at polling stations. Zimbabweans determined to cast their vote had remained in queues as the electoral body failed to deliver ballot papers.
Some polling stations were still to receive election material by the end of Wednesday as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission tried to reassure voters, tempers flared and the opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change alleged possible vote rigging.
The vote is Zimbabwe’s second general election since Robert Mugabe was overthrown in 2017. The poll is taking place amid an ever-worsening economic situation, with inflation remaining among the highest in the world.
Mnangagwa is seeking a second term but his rival Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the CCC, has vowed to reject a “rigged” vote.
Chamisa addressed journalists in Harare late on Wednesday according to Al Jazeera, and accused the electoral commission of conniving with the ruling Zanu-PF party to disfranchise voters in the capital and Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo, which are both traditionally opposition strongholds.
“The fact that they have targeted Harare, Bulawayo is an indication that they are scared of people in the urban areas,” he said.
Political analysts say the delays in voting will affect the result, and predict an electoral challenge afterwards.
Mnangagwa narrowly defeated Chamisa five years ago and pledged to tackle the country’s decades-long economic crisis “head on” in his first term, but unemployment, inflation and falls in the value of the Zimbabwean dollar have persisted.
Zimbabwe has a history of disputed elections since its independence from the UK in 1980. Human rights groups said in the run-up to Wednesday’s vote that the same factors that blighted previous elections – electoral roll irregularities, public media bias, and the use of law enforcement and the courts to hamstring opposition campaigns – remained.
To win the presidency, a candidate will need to win more than 50% of the vote and two-thirds of the seats in parliament to claim a majority.