Zimbabweans have gone to the polls in their first election without former president Robert Mugabe on the ballot.
The current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, succeeded the 94-year-old last November in a bloodless coup that put an abrupt end to Mr Mugabe 37-year presidency. He is facing 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who wants to become Zimbabwe’s youngest head of state.
Voters hope the election will provide a chance to alter the country’s global pariah status and spark a recovery in its failed economy following the long and brutal presidency of Mr Mugabe.
Some 5.5 million people were registered to vote and dozens of people waited in line to vote outside many polling stations in Harare, the capital.
“I want to do this and get on with my business. I am not leaving anything to chance. This is my future,” said Emerina Akenda, a first-time voter.
Voting began at 7am local time – 5am GMT – and polls are open until 7pm.
But Mr Mugabe attempted to make his influence felt once again, turning against the Zanu-PF party he led for so long and Mr Mnangagwa, his former vice president.
In his first public appearance since being removed from power he praised Mr Chamisa as the only candidate who could “return legitimate government to the country”.
The former anti-colonial fighter went on to decry the “evil and malicious characters” who deposed him, and stridently defended his wife Grace
Ms Mugabe, who was by her husband’s side during the press conference in which he made the comments, is accused of serious corruption but Mr Mugabe demanded critics “leave her alone”.
Ms Mugabe had a long-running rivalry with former intelligence chief Mr Mnangagwa and was widely believed to have been behind his sacking from government, which sparked her husband’s eventual downfall – and the thwarting of her own political ambitions.
Thousands of election monitors have fanned out across the country to observe a process that the opposition says is biased against them despite electoral commission assurances that it will be credible.