Zimbabweans vote but hopes of ending economic freefall appear dim



Zimbabweans voted on Wednesday with many citizens desperate for change after two decades of relentless economic chaos but skeptical that an election will help improve the deteriorating situation.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is seeking re-election after a first term during which runaway inflation, currency shortages and sky-high unemployment made life a misery for Zimbabweans, many of whom rely on U.S. dollar remittances from relatives abroad to make ends meet.

The cash-strapped country's chances of resolving a debt crisis that prevents it from accessing World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans are at stake, as foreign lenders have said a free and fair election is a pre-condition for any meaningful talks on the issue.

Mnangagwa, who took over when longtime strongman Robert Mugabe was toppled in a 2017 military coup, faces 10 other candidates including his main challenger, lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

It is the second contest between the two after Mnangagwa won a closely contested poll in 2018, which the opposition alleged was rigged. The country's constitutional court upheld Mnangagwa's election.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and were due to close after 12 hours. Some 6.6 million people are registered to vote in the nation of about 15 million.

Vote-counting will start as soon as polling stations close, and parliamentary results are expected to trickle in over the course of Thursday morning. The presidential result is expected to come later, though well ahead of a five-day deadline.