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Zimbabwe’s Top Opposition Won’t Boycott Election Despite Worries

MDC Alliance supporters at a rally addressed by Nelson Chamisa.
MDC Alliance supporters at a rally addressed by Nelson Chamisa.

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s biggest opposition party won’t boycott Monday’s historic election despite a biased electoral commission that is acting in the interests of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the party’s leader said Wednesday.

Nelson Chamisa, head of the MDC opposition coalition, urged supporters to vote “overwhelmingly for change” in the first election since the November resignation of longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

“We can’t boycott our victory,” Chamisa said. “Winners don’t quit.”

Zimbabwe’s election commission has not addressed the MDC party’s concerns, including alleged media manipulation, problems with the voters’ roll and ballot papers and reports of food distribution to voters by the ruling ZANU-PF party, Chamisa said at a news conference.

“There has been a consistent negation of international standards,” he said. The opposition leader added that his party has adopted “mechanisms” to counter vote-rigging but did not give details.

Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who took over after Mugabe stepped down under military and ruling party pressure, has promised a free and fair election as he seeks to have international sanctions lifted. Past votes have been marred by violence and irregularities.

The election commission has said it will follow the law and that it is ready for the vote in the southern African nation.

Police had banned an opposition demonstration planned for Wednesday because of the dispute over electoral procedures. Similar demonstrations earlier this year had been allowed.

Police on Wednesday had an unusually heavy presence outside the offices of the electoral commission, with two truckloads of officers and a water cannon positioned near a barricade.

Monday’s vote is the first without Mugabe on the ballot since independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Despite concerns about possible vote-rigging, opposition groups are operating in a freer environment than in the past.

A record of more than 20 presidential candidates and 128 political parties will participate in the election; there are more than five million registered voters. Western observers, banned during the Mugabe era, are invited.