Zimbabwe's election extends to a second day after long ballot delays
HARARE: Voting is still underway in Zimbabwe, where hourslong delays in distributing ballot papers forced the president to extend the general election by a day at dozens of polling stations.
Some frustrated voters slept at polling stations in the capital, Harare, snuggling under blankets or lighting fires to keep warm.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who seeks a second term, used his presidential powers to extend voting to Thursday night at dozens of polling stations. Ballot papers were still being printed late Wednesday, hours after voting should have closed. At other polling stations, counting of ballots began.
Zimbabwe has a history of violent and disputed elections. The 80-year-old Mnangagwa had claimed Zimbabwe to be a "master" of democracy while criticizing Western countries that expressed concern about the credibility of the polls weeks ago.
His main challenger, Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer who narrowly lost a disputed election in 2018, has described this election as a sham, claiming that the voting delays were aimed at disenfranchising voters in his urban strongholds.
At many polling stations in Harare and other urban areas, people shoved and shouted at election officials and police officers after being told ballot papers had run out. The state-run Herald newspaper quoted Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi as saying the printing of ballot papers would only be complete late Wednesday night.
Some polling stations opened two hours after the official closing time, while others suspended voting and officials asked people to return in the morning.
"We spent the while night here. We are concerned. This is the first time in my life seeing a situation where people cannot vote because papers are not there. It's not making sense," said Cadwell Munjoma, 55, wearing an overcoat at a polling station in the middle-class Mabelreign suburb at dawn.
Some waiting voters washed their faces at plastic buckets. Others were glued to their phones, urging neighbors and family members who had gone home for the night to return and prepare to vote.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission acknowledged the late distribution of ballot papers at some polling stations and blamed it on printing delays "arising from numerous court challenges." Governing party activists and the opposition had brought a flurry of cases over who could run in both presidential and parliamentary elections.
This is the second general election since the ouster of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in a coup in 2017.
The southern African nation of 15 million people has vast mineral resources, including Africa's largest reserves of lithium, a key component in making electric car batteries. But watchdogs have long alleged that widespread corruption and mismanagement have gutted much of the country's potential.
Ahead of the election, opposition and rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused Mnangagwa of seeking to silence dissent amid rising tensions due to a currency crisis, a sharp hike in food prices, a weakening public health system and a lack of formal jobs.
Mnangagwa was a close ally of Mugabe and served as vice president before a fallout ahead of the 2017 coup. He has sought to portray himself as a reformer, but many accuse him of being even more repressive.
Zimbabwe has been under United States and European Union sanctions for the past two decades over allegations of human rights abuses, charges denied by the governing party. Mnangagwa has repeated much of Mugabe's rhetoric against the West, accusing it of seeking to topple his regime.
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