For the first time in nearly four decades, Zimbabweans voted Monday in a presidential election without Robert Mugabe’s name on the ballot. Citizens and observers hope that the voting, which followed a largely peaceful campaign, will mark a turning point for a country long marked by election violence, fraud, and press crackdowns.
Mugabe, who ruled the nation from its 1980 independence until being forced from office in November 2017, oversaw campaigns of violence and intimidation against the press, which in recent years saw journalists arrested for insulting the president, running unregistered newspapers, and reporting on protests. Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 126th in the world for press freedom shortly after Mugabe’s ouster, writing that “a period of uncertainty for Zimbabwe’s media” came with the rise to power of former state security minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa has made comments indicating that he would respect press freedoms, but Mugabe-era laws remain in effect, and the arrest of two journalists in March dampened hopes for a new approach.
Monday’s vote features nearly two dozen candidates, but the primary challengers are the 75-year-old Mnangagwa—the candidate of ZANU-PF, Mugabe’s former party—against the main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, 40. Election monitors from the US and Europe were allowed in the country for the first time in more than a decade.
So far, reports indicate a high turnout and largely peaceful voting, though international monitors have not yet certified whether the election was “free and fair.” Preliminary results are expected this afternoon before an official tally later this week. If neither candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, then a runoff will be held in September. Both Mnangagwa and Chamisa have expressed confidence, but the race appears too close to call. With the country in limbo as it awaits results, The Guardian reports “widespread fears among opposition activists and supporters that the government or the military will refuse to cede power if defeated.”
Whatever the result, Zimbabwe’s new president will take on the task of moving the country forward after decades of Mugabe’s misrule. Once the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe has suffered from corruption and international sanctions. A peaceful election would be a positive first step, but in order for Zimbabwe to begin truly moving out from under Mugabe’s shadow, the repeal of restrictive press laws and an end to intimidation and violence against journalists should soon follow.
Below, more on a landmark vote in Zimbabwe.
- Issues persist: The Associated Press’s Christopher Torchia reports that, despite a freer political environment since Mugabe left office, “there remained concerns about bias in state media coverage of the election, a lack of transparency in ballot printing and reports of intimidation by pro-government local leaders who are supposed to stay neutral.”
- The stakes: “Whoever ultimately wins, the election is widely seen as a chance for Zimbabwe to embark on a new path after years of autocratic rule, moving in step with a region that is increasingly democratic and integrated in the global economy,” writes The Washington Post’s Max Bearak.
- Mugabe’s vote: In a surprise press conference on Sunday, Mugabe told reporters he couldn’t vote “for those who have tormented me,” indicating that he would support Chamisa rather than ZANU-PF.
- Fake news and propaganda: Writing for Quartz in the run-up to the election, Tawanda Karombo reports that voters had to wade through fake news on social media, especially on WhatsApp.
- On the media: Tamara Gausi considers whether the election could usher in a new era for Zimbabwean journalism.
Other notable stories
- New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet tells BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg that he didn’t attend the off-the-record meeting with President Trump because, “as the person overseeing coverage, I don’t think officials should be able to tell me things that I can’t publish. And I don’t want to be courted or wooed.” Baquet did admit to breaking his own rule during the election, when he took part in a meeting with Trump and the paper’s editorial board. “I couldn’t resist,” he tells Perlberg. “I’m still a reporter and I wanted to get a look at him. But I kept wanting to write about the things he said, and I couldn’t. It was a mistake that proved my point.”
- “Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour gave Beyoncé unprecedented control over the cover of the upcoming September issue,” reports HuffPost’s Yashar Ali. The music star will have complete control over “the cover, the photos of her inside the magazine and the captions, which she has written herself and are in long-form.” Ali also reports that Beyoncé has hired Tyler Mitchell to be her photographer, marking the first time that a black photographer will shoot Vogue’s cover. The magazine has been around for 126 years.
- CJR’s Amanda Darrach profiles Matthew Lee, an independent journalist who has become a thorn in the UN’s side. “Matt plays an important role in being a gadfly,” a member of the UN press corps tells Darrach. “Everyone thinks he’s nuts, but everyone reads him.” Lee was recently banned from the United Nations building, and has taken up working residence at a bus stop outside the delegates’ entrance to the UN.
- Les Moonves remains in charge of CBS, at least for now. The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint and Keach Hagey report the company’s board will select an outside law firm to investigate claims of sexual harassment and assault against Moonves which were raised in a New Yorker article. Washington Post reporter Amy Brittain tweeted that “CBS announced a legal investigation into the workplace culture on May 3 after we published additional accounts of harassment by Charlie Rose (including 14 women at CBS News). It’s been nearly 3 months, & I have not heard a word about any results of that investigation.”
- Bob Woodward is back on the beat. Simon & Schuster announced Monday that it will publish Fear: Trump in the White House on September 11. The Washington Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia notes that Woodward has kept a lower profile than usual in the 19 months he’s been working on the book. “He’s gone back to some of the signature moves of his youthful reporting days,” Roig-Franzia writes. “Late at night, he’s been prone to show up at important people’s houses unannounced to ask for interviews.”
- Between 2008 and 2017, newspaper newsroom employees dropped by 45 percent, reports Pew’s Elizabeth Grieco. Despite growth by digital publishers, overall newsroom employment was still down 23 percent over the period, falling from about 114,000 newsroom employees in 2008 to around 88,000 last year.