Zim leader signals break from Mugabe era as he vows 'free, credible, fair, indisputable polls'

Harare - Zimbabwe's president says elections will be in May or June, as he faces pressure at home and abroad to deliver a credible vote to cement his legitimacy.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power from longtime ruler Robert Mugabe with the military's help in November. The state-run Herald newspaper quoted him on Thursday as saying "Zimbabwe is going for elections in four to five months' time" while on a visit to neighbouring Mozambique.

That would be ahead of the timeframe stipulated in the constitution, which says elections should be between July 23 and August 21. Mnangagwa had hinted they could be held earlier.

According to Veritas, a legal think tank, the president can circumvent the constitutionally stipulated timeline only if Parliament dissolves itself, necessitating early polls.

The ruling Zanu-PF party has the majority in Parliament.

Western countries, whose relations with Mugabe were hostile due to allegations of human rights abuses and electoral fraud, have insisted on credible elections.

The European Union's ambassador to Zimbabwe, Philippe Van Damme, told journalists last week that free and fair elections will be a "huge step" in defining the southern African country's reengagement with the international community.

The EU and the United States, which still has sanctions against Mnangagwa for his past activities as a top Mugabe aide, are Zimbabwe's biggest donors.

"We will ensure that Zimbabwe delivers free, credible, fair and indisputable elections to ensure Zimbabwe engages the world as a qualified democratic state," the Herald quotes Mnangagwa as saying in Mozambique.

The new president in recent weeks has intensified outreach to neighboring countries, which he has described as "an important step in building a new, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe."

Mnangagwa travels to Davos, Switzerland next week for the World Economic Forum, the first time a Zimbabwean president will attend the meeting. A visit to China is planned for April, according to his office.

At home, he is reaching out through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, forums scorned by Mugabe, and has visited the country's main opposition leader.

Mnangagwa faces huge economic challenges in once-prosperous Zimbabwe, such as severe cash shortages and dramatic price increases of food and other household items.

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