Zimbabwe holds final rallies before historic election

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and main challenger Nelson Chamisa are set to hold final campaign rallies ahead of Monday's election in a country seeking to move past decades of economic and political paralysis.

The vote will be a first for the southern African nation: Longtime leader Robert Mugabe won't be on the ballot after resigning in November following a military takeover and pressure from the ruling ZANU-PF party that once backed him. The majority of Zimbabwe's 5 million voters grew up under Mugabe's 37-year rule.

Supporters of the 75-year-old Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe deputy, and the 40-year-old Chamisa, the leader of the opposition MDC party, are gathering at separate venues in Harare, the capital.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Chamisa alleged that Zimbabwe's electoral commission is biased in favor of Mnangagwa, which the president and the commission deny. Chamisa vowed to hold peaceful protests if the election is flawed.

A credible vote could help Zimbabwe to shed its longtime status as a global pariah and spur recovery for its collapsed economy, while a contentious election would prevent the lifting of years of international sanctions.

Past elections under Mugabe were marred by violence and intimidation against the opposition and by alleged vote-rigging. Foreign observers were shunned.

Now dozens of foreign observers are spreading throughout the country, including teams from the United States, the European Union, the Commonwealth and the African Union.

"We are aware of the issues that have been raised by opposition parties, however we hope that the elections will be free and fair," U.S. Senator Jeff Flake told reporters on Saturday.

When asked whether Mnangagwa is better than Mugabe, Flake replied: "No comment. That's pretty low-bar."

Mnangagwa himself remains under U.S. sanctions.


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