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International observers have criticized voting delays and an uneven playing field in Zimbabwe’s general election, where President Emmerson Mnangagwa is running for re-election.

Mnangagwa’s ruling National Alliance-Patriotic Front party said it was on track to win this week’s vote, but late ballot submissions, bias in state media and voter intimidation have weighed on the election, an observer at a regional body said on Friday. affected.

SADC offered rare criticism after Zimbabwe was forced to extend voting until a second day after the electoral commission failed to deliver ballots to many polling stations.

The delays particularly affected votes in the capital Harare and second city Bulawayo, both strongholds of the opposition Citizens for Change coalition led by Mnangagwa’s main challenger, Nelson Chamisa. lead.

Police in Zimbabwe also arrested dozens of observers from local civil society groups. African Union election observers said of the arrests that they were “concerned that such actions could undermine the peace and integrity of the ongoing process”.

Observers’ judgment of the election’s credibility will be crucial to Zimbabwe’s ability to win international support for a measure aimed at clearing billions of dollars in debt from the era of the late dictator Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa overthrew Mugabe in a 2017 coup, but his government remains fiscally isolated amid a collapsing currency and triple-digit inflation.

The results of the presidential election must be announced within five days of the close of polls. Early parliamentary results released by the electoral commission on Friday showed Chamisa’s party leading in urban seats, while the African National Union-Patriotic Front candidate was ahead in rural areas.

The observer for the Southern African Development Community stated that “certain aspects of the unified elections fall short of the requirements of Zimbabwe’s constitution, electoral law and regional guidelines”. They added that while the vote was largely peaceful, delays in the distribution of ballots had the “unfortunate effect of casting doubt on the credibility of the electoral process”.

EU observers also pointed to “unacceptable delays” in the election and “significant delays” in the opening of some polling stations. They also criticized a “widespread and ongoing disinformation campaign” seeking to undercut international observers.

“This is the most ineptly organized election,” said Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a longtime observer of Zimbabwean elections, who was deported before the vote.

“But this incompetence appears to be particularly focused on opposition strongholds, almost as if designed to impede or delay the opposition vote and weaken its voting power,” Chen added.

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