Opposition party supporters cheer as leading opposition challenger Nelson Chamisa arrives at a campaign rally in Bindura, Zimbabwe, Friday July 27, 2018. Chamisa said in an interview with the Associated Press that Monday's historic election is likely to be flawed and that he will lead a campaign of peaceful protests if former Mugabe deputy and current President Emmerson Mnangagwa wins a disputed vote. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

AP Interview: Zimbabwe opposition chief warns of flawed vote

July 27, 2018 - 9:59 am

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's historic election on Monday is likely to be flawed and the opposition will launch peaceful protests if President Emmerson Mnangagwa wins in a disputed vote, the country's main opposition leader said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Nelson Chamisa, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party, said the electoral commission has not adequately addressed concerns about voting procedures in what is being called Zimbabwe's most important election since independence in 1980.

A credible vote could help the country to finally shed its longtime status as an international pariah and spur recovery for its collapsed economy, while a contentious election would prevent Zimbabwe from moving forward after many years of political and economic paralysis.

The MDC's coalition won't boycott the country's first election since the resignation of longtime leader Robert Mugabe after a military takeover in November, Chamisa said. But he warned that there could be demonstrations by Zimbabweans if they conclude that the election was rigged.

"We have not said there is going to be a civil war. I am a civilian, so war, no. But in terms of maybe civil action by citizens, yes. Let the people express themselves within the confines of peace," Chamisa said in the AP interview at his office in the capital, Harare.

The 40-year-old lawyer and pastor, who has energized the MDC party since taking over in February following the death of its founding chief Morgan Tsvangirai, has protested the electoral commission's alleged lack of transparency in the handling of ballot papers and the voters' roll.

The commission has said the election will be free and fair, a statement echoed by Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who took over after Mugabe's exit from power and needs a credible vote to get years of international sanctions lifted. Voting under Mugabe was marred by violence and irregularities.

"We feel that the process itself is a flawed one, we feel that the outcome is contestable, we feel that things that were supposed to be done were not done," Chamisa said.

In the event of a contested election win by Mnangagwa, Chamisa said, the MDC party won't take any complaints to the courts despite election observers' urging to do so.

Chamisa, who has an ability to move crowds with fiery speeches, alleged that Zimbabwe's judicial system is biased in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

"We have seen that instead of getting jurisprudence, we get vengeance at a political level and even at a legal level and this is a problem," he said. "The court we have confidence in is the court of public opinion and the court of the people."

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

A record 23 presidential candidates and 128 political parties will participate in the election; Zimbabwe has more than 5 million registered voters. Western observers, banned during the Mugabe era, are invited.

The opposition leader told the AP that his party's immediate goal is to overcome any vote-tampering with a massive turnout that delivers victory on Monday.

"This is why I have urged people to come out in large numbers and overwhelm and even outflank and outgun whatever machinations may be put in place by this government," Chamisa said.

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