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Zimbabweans vote in crucial by-elections

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Zimbabweans cast ballots on Saturday in parliamentary and local authority by-elections seen as a yardstick of what is to come in next year's general polls.

The polls, which opened at 7:00 am, have generated so much interest that President Emmerson Mnangangwa has led various campaign rallies to shore up support for ruling ZANU-PF candidates.

"We need change," Jasen Maeka, a 42-year-old unemployed man said after voting at a polling station in central Harare.

"We should give the opposition a chance. This government has proved to be a failure," Maeka said.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who is seen as the most formidable challenger to Mnangangwa, formed a new party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), three months before the by-elections.

"We are going into a crucial by-election...it is a dry run of the 2023 election," Chamisa told his final campaign rally in a working class district on the outskirts of Harare on Thursday.

The new party drew massive crowds to its campaign rallies.

Chamisa's party complained of growing repression by the authorities as several of its parties were banned by the police during the two-month long campaign.

Unrest at an opposition rally last month left one person dead and 22 injured.

During the campaign, the country's vice president Constantino Chiwenga likened the opposition to lice which should be "crushed".

ZANU-PF, which has led the country since independence from Britain in 1980, also attracted huge campaign crowds.

Critics accuse Mnangagwa, who took power in 2017 after Robert Mugabe ruled for 37 years, of muzzling dissidents and the opposition has voiced concern that election will not be credible.

Voters are casting ballots in 28 parliamentary constituencies including 20 where opposition lawmakers were recalled in a battle over the control of the country's largest opposition party.

The rest of the seats fell vacant following the deaths or reassignment of the incumbents.

By-elections were also being held in 122 local government municipalities.

The by-elections were supposed to be held within 90 days of the seats falling vacant but Mnangangwa delayed the polls in 2020 citing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sixteen parties were taking part in the elections.

On the eve of the polls, Chamisa's party alleged that the election was rigged before voting had taken place, citing errors in the voters register.

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