Zimbabwe will hold elections in four or five months, the new president announced on Thursday, a sign the country ruled for decades by autocratic leader Robert Mugabe is on the path towards true democracy.
However, the announcement came as the main opposition party accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa‘s government of secretly deploying thousands of soldiers in rural areas to help sway the election in his favour.
The elections will be the first not involving Mugabe since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980. Voting for the presidency, parliament, and local government will be peaceful, Mnangagwa said.
“Zimbabwe is going for elections in four to five months’ time and we have to preach peace, peace and peace because we know it is good for us and we have no doubt that we will have peaceful elections,” Mnangagwa was quoted as saying by the official Herald newspaper during an official trip to Mozambique.
“We will ensure that Zimbabwe delivers free, credible, fair and indisputable elections to ensure Zimbabwe engages the world as a qualified democratic state.”
Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s president in November 2017 after a military intervention led the long-serving leader to step down.
Zimbabwe has had a rocky relationship with the international community during Mugabe’s 37-year tenure.
After coming to power, Mnangagwa launched a 100-day reform plan in the hope of increasing foreign investment and boosting the country’s faltering economy.
Parts of Zimbabwe are desperately poor after years of economic mismanagement and rampant corruption under Mugabe. In 2016, the country ranked 154th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index.
Mnangagwa, who also replaced Mugabe as leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party, said Zimbabwe is willing to work with foreign partners in rebuilding the economy while efforting better relations with the international community.
Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has been the biggest challenger of ZANU-PF.
The MDC accused the president on Thursday of deploying the military throughout Zimbabwe to influence rural residents to vote for the ZANU-PF candidate.
“The MDC is … deeply concerned by the continued militarisation of villages around the country. We have solid and incontrovertible evidence pointing to the fact that thousands of army officers in civilian attire have been deployed into the countryside for the purposes of carrying out clandestine political campaigns on behalf of ZANU-PF,” a MDC statement said.
Under the constitution, Zimbabwe should hold elections between July 22 and August 22, but parliament can choose to dissolve itself, triggering an earlier vote. ZANU-PF holds a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Western countries imposed harsh sanctions on Zimbabwe over land seizures from white farmers and alleged vote-rigging under Mugabe.
Little investment in agriculture – the backbone of the economy – has been made over the past two decades because of disputes over compensation between former white farmers and the government.
Resolving the land issue could unlock foreign investment in agriculture and help mend ties between Harare and the West.