HARARE, (Reuters) – Zimbabwe will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Aug. 23.
A dozen candidates are vying to be the country’s next president but the main contest is between incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is seeking a second term and leads the ruling ZANU-PF party, and Nelson Chamisa, of the new Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
Here are some details of the two leading candidates.
The 80-year-old Mnangagwa came to power after a 2017 military coup which toppled long time ruler Robert Mugabe.
Until their fall-out in the months leading up to the coup, Mnangagwa was one of Mugabe’s closest lieutenants and served in various top government roles including as vice president and minister of state security.
Nicknamed “the Crocodile”, an animal famed in Zimbabwean lore for its stealth and ruthlessness, Mnangagwa has been accused by opponents of being Mugabe’s political enforcer as the late ruler cracked down on dissent. Mnangagwa denies those charges.
Mnangagwa, trained as a communist guerrilla in China in the 1960s, was in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when Mugabe deployed a North Korean-trained brigade against rebels loyal to his rival Joshua Nkomo.
Rights groups say 20,000 civilians, mostly from the Ndebele tribe, were killed in what has become known as the massacres of Gukurahundi.
Mnangagwa denies responsibility, but as president he engaged traditional leaders of communities affected by the massacres to discuss matters including compensation, reconciliation and healing.
Mnangagwa fashions himself as pro-business and, within months of coming to power, scrapped a local business ownership law championed by Mugabe. The law, which required foreign-owned businesses including mines to sell majority stakes to locals, unsettled investors who held back investment.
However, critics say the economic turnaround Mnangagwa promised five years ago remains elusive.
Mnangagwa has said his government has created opportunities for locals in the economy with policies supporting their involvement in sectors such as mining and agriculture.
Chamisa transitioned from being a student leader who led anti-government protests over college fees into national politics in 1999, when the late politician Morgan Tsvangirai spearheaded the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to mount the most serious challenge to ZANU-PF’s stranglehold on power.
A lawyer and pastor by training, the 45-year-old Chamisa became Zimbabwe’s youngest ever presidential candidate in 2018 when he narrowly lost to Mnangagwa.
Chamisa is credited with reviving the opposition in Zimbabwe after a major split in the camp in 2018 following Tsvangirai’s death that had weakened it.
After losing a bruising legal battle to a rival MDC faction, Chamisa changed the name of his camp to the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). The CCC immediately established itself as the main challenger to ZANU-PF after winning the most seats in parliamentary by-elections held in March 2022.
Chamisa served as a government minister, responsible for information and communication technology between 2009 and 2013, after Mugabe agreed to share power with the opposition following a disputed election in 2008.
He has pledged to grow Zimbabwe’s economy, fight corruption and end Zimbabwe’s isolation. A CCC government would impose fiscal discipline, restore respect for human and property rights and attract investment, Chamisa says.
Critics say Chamisa has a penchant for outlandish election promises, including grand infrastructure projects, but is short on details of how he would fund them.
Although he poses a threat to ZANU-PF, his campaign has faced hurdles with the police routinely stopping opposition rallies.