Incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), is hoping to secure a second term in office. His biggest rival in the presidential election is Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party.
The two were the frontrunners in the last presidential race in 2018 too. This time around though, they will have to contend with a once exiled former ZANU-PF minister, Savior Kasukuwere, too.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has approved 11 presidential candidates in total, with each having had to pay $20,000 (€18,000) to appear on the ballot.
To win the presidency, one candidates must get more than 50% of the vote. If no outright winner emerges, a run-off between the top two contenders will be held on October 2.
Alexandar Rusero, a politics professor at Africa University in Zimbabwe, says only Mnangagwa, Chamisa and Kasukuwere have any chance of emerging as the winner.
“The rest are just side shows and maybe people who are strategically positioning themselves in the post-election. Because what happened in the 2018 election has since proved that there are some dividends if you invest in this race,” Rusero told DW.
What voters think
Voters in the southern African country will head to the polls against a backdrop of an alleged intensifying crackdown on the opposition. Several members of the opposition have been arrested and dozens of opposition campaign events have been blocked.
The CCC has also complained that it has been given too little exposure on national television in the runup to the vote.
One voter in Harare told DW she is worried about the violence on the political scene in the runup to the vote.
“I think the current elections, judging from the current social media posts, like Twitter, I have seen many cases of political assaults happening. So, they are violent,” Adorable Jamela said.
Eighty-year-old Mnangagwa has led Zimbabwe since the military forced long-term leader Robert Mugabe to resign in 2017. The election that secured him a first presidential term was disputed.
Jamela told DW she is expecting Mnangagwa to win.
“Currently I am expecting ZANU-PF to win for obvious reasons. They are the ones putting efforts into this election campaigning and the opposition hasn’t convinced me that they are really in the race.”
Another voter, Robert Nhumbe, says he is hoping for the opposite outcome. “Most people, especially here in urban areas, we want Chamisa to win because he offers us jobs [and] opportunities,” he told DW.
Nhumbe says he regards the 2023 electoral process as relatively peaceful: “This time, elections are quite peaceful, unlike in the previous years when we used to have violence [and] people beating each other.”
First-time voter Kimberly says election preparations have been better than in 2018. “I am going to vote in these elections. So far so good. There has been peace and I hope ZANU-PF does not rig the election,” she told DW.
Sanctions and new ‘patriotic law’
Zimbabwe’s ailing economy and international sanctions that date back to the Mugabe-era are big election issues.
Last month, inflation was officially at 175% but some economists estimate it to be higher. Negotiations are meanwhile underway to end sanctions and clear decades of unpaid loans that make up the bulk of Zimbabwe’s $14 billion external debt.
Another key election issue has been the so-called Patriotic Bill which Mnangagwa signed into law this month. It makes a provision for a death sentence to be imposed on any citizen who calls for international sanctions on Zimbabwe.
“We will not [allow] the Western countries to dictate to us. We do not dictate to them. This interference from outside is unacceptable,” Mnangagwa said in defence of the new law recently. “We as a sovereignty state and a member of the United Nations … have a sovereign right to run our elections, uninterfered.”
Rutendo Matinyarare, the chairman of the pro-government Zimbabwe Anti-Sanctions Movement, says the new law “deters people and unites Zimbabweans to not sabotage their own country.”
But Lucia Masuka, the executive director of Amnesty International in Zimbabwe, disagrees and describes the legislation as “an attack on the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression.”
Incumbent warns election observers
Electoral authorities say about 6.6 million voters are registered this year, an improvement on the 5.7 million registered in 2018.
Among them is MacDonald Moyo who does not support the controversial new law. “As a youth, I think the Patriotic Bill is not quite okay. So, I think it should not have been made a law. It’s not a good law. It’s draconian,” he told DW.
Samson Choga, another registered voter, told DW he did not believe the new law is fair “because the ruling party can use it to suppress the opposition.”
Mnangagwa has meanwhile issued a stern warning to international election observers . “Those countries who want to observe must restrict themselves to the role of observing our elections. Not to interfere in that process. We will not accept it. After all they have elections full of faults in their own places,” he said.
Zimbabweans in the diaspora are keenly following the elections. Many like Shona, who lives in neighboring South Africa, say traveling home to vote is a priority.
“I am going back home to vote. If the election is free and fair, my vote is going to make a difference because I would have voted,” Shona told DW.
Not all Zimbabweans living abroad are able to return or willing to do so. “I have been home recently. I saw how things were being done. Most of the opposition rallies were being banned. I don’t think it will be a fair and free election,” another Zimbabwean living in South Africa, who declined to be named, told DW.
Rusero, the politics professor at Africa University in Zimbabwe, said he is doubtful that the 2023 elections will bring about meaningful change.
“Unfortunately, we are not yet at a stage where there is a relationship between what voters want and what they vote for, otherwise we wouldn’t have ZANU-PF in power for the past 43 years,” he said.