Zimbabweans voted on Monday in the country's first election since ageing autocrat Robert Mugabe was ousted last year, with the opposition vowing to overcome alleged ballot fraud and defeat the ruling ZANU-PF.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe's former ally in the ZANU-PF party, faces opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) in a historic vote for the southern African nation.
Long lines of voters waited outside polling stations from morning, with election authorities saying early signs suggested a high turnout nationwide.
"I just have to do this. I have to see a better Zimbabwe for my kids. Things have been tough," Tawanda Petru, 28, an unemployed man voting in Mbare, a low-income district of the capital Harare, told AFP.
"I'm going to vote for Chamisa, for change. I am not afraid, I can tell you."
Mugabe, 94, who was ousted by the military in November, voted at his regular polling station in Harare alongside his wife Grace after making a surprise intervention on the eve of the election to call for voters to reject ZANU-PF.
During a two-hour press conference at his sprawling mansion in Harare, Mugabe had said he might vote for the opposition MDC – underlining Zimbabwe's haywire political scene since his fall.
Mnangagwa, 75, who has promised a fresh start despite being from the ZANU-PF elite, is the election front-runner with the advantage of covert military support, a loyal state media and a ruling party that controls government resources.
The party also holds the majority in the lower house of parliament, which is also up for election.
But Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor, who has performed strongly on the campaign trail, hopes to tap into a young population that could vote for change.
"I have no doubt that by the end of the day today we should be very clear as to an emphatic voice for change, the new, and the young – I represent that," Chamisa said as he voted in Harare, supported by chanting supporters.
He again raised fraud allegations, saying "in the rural areas… if the ballot is a genuine one, not a fake one, victory is certain."
On Twitter, he alleged there was a "deliberate attempt to suppress" voting in urban areas – MDC strongholds.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of alleged intimidation and threats of violence in the run-up to polling day, but said it was encouraged to see open rallies and peaceful demonstrations.
The next government must tackle mass unemployment and an economy shattered by the Mugabe-backed seizure of white-owned farms, the collapse of agriculture, hyperinflation and an investment exodus.
Previously solid health and education services are in ruins and millions have fled abroad to seek work.