World

New Zimbabwe president says election could be held in May or June

Zimbabwe's president says elections will be in May or June, as he faces pressure at home and abroad to deliver a credible vote to cement his legitimacy.

Mnangagwa to be at World Economic Forum, no doubt looking to shore up legitimacy after Mugabe rule

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, shown after delivering the state of the nation address in the capital Harare on Dec. 20, was quoted Thursday by the state-run Herald newspaper as saying 'Zimbabwe is going for elections in four to five months' time.' (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

Zimbabwe's president says elections will be in May or June, as he faces pressure at home and abroad to deliver a credible vote to cement his legitimacy.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power from longtime ruler Robert Mugabe with the military's help in November, and this will be the first election without Mugabe since Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980.

The state-run Herald newspaper quoted Mnangagwa on Thursday as saying "Zimbabwe is going for elections in four to five months' time." He was visiting neighbouring Mozambique when he made the comment.

That would be ahead of the timeframe stipulated in the constitution, which says elections should be between July 23 and Aug. 21. Mnangagwa had hinted they could be held earlier.

According to Veritas, a legal think-tank, the president can circumvent the constitutionally stipulated timeline only if Parliament dissolves itself, necessitating early polls.

The ruling ZANU-PF party has the majority in Parliament.

Western countries, whose relations with Mugabe were hostile due to allegations of human rights abuses and electoral fraud, have insisted on credible elections.

Huge economic challenges

In an interview with the Financial Times published Thursday, Mnangagwa said he would welcome missions from the United Nations, European Union and the Commonwealth to monitor the upcoming elections. Mugabe had scorned such observers, preferring ones from African nations and organizations.

Mnangagwa in the interview also said Zimbabwe was interested in rejoining the Commonwealth, the group of Britain's former colonies.

The European Union's ambassador to Zimbabwe, Philippe Van Damme, told journalists last week that free and fair elections will be a "huge step" in defining the southern African country's reengagement with the international community.

The EU and the United States, which still has sanctions against Mnangagwa for his past activities as a top Mugabe aide, are Zimbabwe's biggest donors.

"We will ensure that Zimbabwe delivers free, credible, fair and indisputable elections to ensure Zimbabwe engages the world as a qualified democratic state," the Herald quotes Mnangagwa as saying in Mozambique.

The new president in recent weeks has intensified outreach to neighbouring countries, which he has described as "an important step in building a new, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe."

Mnangagwa travels to Davos, Switzerland, next week for the World Economic Forum, the first time a Zimbabwean president will attend the meeting. A visit to China is planned for April, according to his office.

At home, he is reaching out through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, forums scorned by Mugabe, and has visited the country's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. The ailing Tsvangirai after that meeting dropped the biggest hint yet he could step down from his party.

Mnangagwa faces huge economic challenges in once-prosperous Zimbabwe, such as severe cash shortages and dramatic price increases of food and other household items.

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