“There is a feeling that the international community is going to soft peddle this election as acceptable, hiding behind the rubric of ‘stability’,” said Piers Pigou, senior consultant at International Crisis Group.
“It is a bit of a ‘better the devil you know’ situation but that’s a dangerous game to play.”
Mnangagwa, often referred to as “ED”, has made a big effort to win over the international community; hosting Western ambassadors, courting foreign investors and even patching up relations with white commercial farmers who were violently evicted from their farms under Mugabe.
“I will vote for ED because he is mature and cares for this country a lot. He is a father figure,” said Farai Rubowa, a watch repairman on the streets of Harare.
“This will be the most peaceful election in Africa and the opposition is running scared.”
Chamisa, Zimbabwe’s youngest ever presidential candidate, has been unable to keep the MDC united after winning a bitter leadership contest when the party’s founder Morgan Tsvangirai died of cancer in February.
Yet he has surprised many with the speed at which he has gained public support, winning over the youth and unemployed voters disillusioned with the decades of ZANU-PF rule.
More than 40 percent of registered voters are under 35 and unemployment is estimated at over 90 percent.
“I know ZANU-PF is trying all sorts of tricks to rig but they will fail because we are tired of ZANU-PF lies,” said 28-year-old street trader Jacob Shuvai.
“Chamisa will be very good for Zimbabwe, especially for us the youths.”
Whoever wins the election will face the mammoth task of putting Zimbabwe back on track after 37 years of Mugabe’s rule. Analysts say corruption, mismanagement and diplomatic isolation sent one of Africa’s most promising economies into decline.
Zimbabwe’s dire financial situation has arguably worsened under Mnangagwa, who pushed through huge civil service pay rises ahead of the election and has failed to address chronic cash shortages that are choking businesses and the poor.
“Reforms have been pushed behind the election curtain and the hole has been dug deeper, deeper and deeper,” said Pigou.
“Whoever wins may be inheriting a poisoned chalice.”-Reuters