JOHANNESBURG – For 37 years, Zimbabwe knew no leader but Robert Mugabe. On Monday, the southern African nation goes to the polls for the first post-Mugabe election, one that could determine whether new President Emmerson Mnangagwa stands by promises of reforms in the economically shattered country and whether the military would serve, or even allow, an opposition winner. Here's a look at key issues.
A DIASPORA OF MILLIONS WITHOUT A VOTE
Millions of Zimbabweans working and living outside the country will be unable to vote unless they travel back home after the Constitutional Court in May rejected a bid by human rights lawyers to amend the Electoral Act. Many people fled during decades of economic and political turmoil under Mugabe, although there are no official figures of Zimbabweans in the diaspora. Inside the country, an estimated 5.3 million people have registered to vote.
MUGABE'S LONG SHADOW
Last year Mugabe's wife, Grace, appeared to be positioning herself to succeed her husband with a campaign to vilify his deputy, Mnangagwa. But Mnangagwa's firing in November led to a whirl of events that saw the military step in, Mugabe resign amid impeachment proceedings and Mnangagwa take power. Now the 94-year-old Mugabe and his wife live quietly in the capital, Harare, but the former president remains influential. He backs a political party that supports main opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa and retains strong support in some rural areas — where some still think Mugabe is president.
A CREDIBLE ELECTION?
Mnangagwa has promised a free and fair vote as he seeks the removal of international sanctions imposed years ago after elections marred by allegations of violence and intimidation. While Mugabe banned Western election observers, the new president has welcomed them for the first time in 16 years. A record 23 candidates are running for president. But the main opposition MDC party and election observers have raised serious concerns. The voters' roll is said to be flawed and the preparation of ballots has been called non-transparent. The military, which has said it will support any winner in the election, has denied sending thousands of soldiers into rural areas to influence voters in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party.
THE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Concerns about election violence rose after a grenade attack "inches away" from Mnangagwa at a campaign rally last month killed two people while the president emerged unscathed. Two people were arrested in what state media called an assassination attempt. Mnangagwa dismissed the attack as just the latest of several attempts on his life and blamed his "normal" enemies. The government later announced that any frightened candidates would be provided with protection, a first.
A COLLAPSED ECONOMY
Zimbabweans have seen little or no improvement in the economy since Mnangagwa took office. The country is still without its own currency and lines remain long outside banks amid a severe cash crunch. Millions including college graduates have turned to eking out a living as street vendors, while industries resemble scrapyards. Youth make up the bulk of the country's voters and are most affected by the economic crisis, and both Mnangagwa and Chamisa have tried to win their vote with social media campaigns and the promise that brought Mnangagwa big applause during his inauguration speech: "Jobs, jobs, jobs."
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