Counting began in Zimbabwe on Monday in the first election since the removal of former president Robert Mugabe, a watershed vote that could welcome a pariah state back into the international fold and spark an economic recovery.
The election is a two-horse race between 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long-time Mugabe ally, and 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who is vying to become Zimbabwe’s youngest head of state.
Mnangagwa is viewed as the frontrunner, though 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.
Voting closed at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT). The official result has to be announced within five days but there will likely be an indication of the outcome on Tuesday.
Zimbabweans are also electing 210 members of parliament and more than 9,000 councillors.
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.
Chamisa said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was impeding voting in urban areas where he enjoys strong support but gave no evidence to back the claim.
“The people’s will being negated & undetermined due to these deliberate and unnecessary delays,” he said in a tweet. The ZEC was not immediately available to comment. It has denied Chamisa’s previous allegations of bias.
Reuters spoke to several international observers who said the voting process had been slow at some stations but it did not appear to them to be intentional.