Zimbabwe’s Chamisa says has done ‘exceedingly well’ in vote seen as very close

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party leader Nelson Chamisa addresses a media conference in Harare, Zimbabwe July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader said on Tuesday election results from more than 10,000 polling stations showed his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had done “exceedingly well” but several observer groups said the contest was too close to call.

Nelson Chamisa, 40, and 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa were the main contenders in Monday’s election, the first since long-ruling Robert Mugabe was removed in a bloodless coup in November.

Mnangagwa was viewed as the frontrunner, although the latest opinion polls showed a tight race. There will be a runoff on Sept. 8 if no candidate wins more than half the votes.

Several civil society groups are collating results from 10,985 polling posts in parallel with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) but are not allowed to release results before the ZEC. A source at one group said it was too early to call a winner but it was looking “very close”.

ZEC, which said on Monday voter turnout had averaged 75 percent, will announce official results within five days.

“Awaiting ZEC to perform their constitutional duty to officially announce the people’s election results and we are ready to form the next government,” said Chamisa, who is vying to become Zimbabwe’s youngest head of state, on his official Twitter feed.

Mnangagwa’s spokesman, George Charamba, and ZANU-PF spokesman Simon Khaya-Moyo did not respond to calls for comment.

In the capital Harare, an MDC stronghold, results posted outside some polling stations seen by Reuters showed Chamisa winning by wide margins but Mnangagwa was expected to claw back ground in the ruling ZANU-PF rural heartland.

Urban results tend to emerge quicker than those from rural outposts, where communication is poor.

In some rural constituencies in the east and south of the country, counting of votes was still ongoing but was expected to end early on Tuesday, some parliamentary candidates said.

The election winner faces the task of putting Zimbabwe back on track after 37 years of Mugabe rule tainted by corruption, mismanagement and diplomatic isolation that caused a crisis in a country that once had one of Africa’s most promising economies.

A credible vote is essential if Zimbabwe is to exit painful sanctions and secure the donor funding and investment needed to stem chronic cash shortages.

The run-up to Monday’s vote was largely peaceful compared to past elections under Mugabe, where the ruling party and war veterans were accused of violence against opponents.

Dozens of people were killed ahead of a runoff in 2008 between Mugabe and MDC-founder Morgan Tsvangirai, who died of cancer in February.

Mugabe emerged on the eve of the election to announce he would vote for the opposition, surprising Mnangagwa who accused him of striking a deal with Chamisa.

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