With hope and pride, millions of Zimbabweans voted peacefully Monday in an election that many believe is their best chance to escape the toxic politics and dead-end economics of the era of Robert Mugabe, who wasn't on the ballot for the first time in the nation's nearly four-decade history.
Voting closed at 7 pm (1700 GMT) as observers warned of possible shortcomings in Monday's landmark poll. The official result has to be announced within five days, but there will likely be an indication of the outcome on Tuesday.
As vote-counting began, incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa appealed to Zimbabweans to be patient and wait for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to announce results.
"Today, Zimbabwe experienced a beautiful expression of freedom & democracy," Mnangagwa tweeted. "No matter which way we voted, we are all brothers and sisters."
Mnangagwa, Mugabe's former right-hand man in the ruling ZANU-PF party, faced off against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the historic vote.
Earlier, however, Chamisa said on Twitter that voting delays in urban areas, where his support is strong, were a "deliberate attempt" to undermine his election bid
"They may be peaceful, but we don't know how credible they are," said 51-year-old Classified Chivese, a voter who, like many Zimbabweans, is unemployed.
Some Western poll monitors noted some problems at polling stations, but said it wasn't yet clear whether they reflected a deliberate effort to manipulate the elections.
TRT World 's Ben Said has more.
With 5.6 million registered voters, Zimbabweans are electing a president, 210 members of parliament and more than 9,000 councillors.
A run-off vote is scheduled for September 8 if no presidential candidate wins at least 50 percent.
"I am not shy to say I voted for Chamisa. He is young and can understand our plight as youth," said Ndumiso Nyoni, 20, a worker at a lodge in Lupane, southern Zimbabwe.
Officials overseeing the polls, in which a record number of candidates stood, said long queues at many polling stations suggested a high turnout nationwide, which the electoral commission later said was in the region of 75 percent.
Journalist Columbus Mavhunga tells TRT World why this election is so crucial.
Watching the polls
Previously-banned European Union election observers, present for the first time in years, said participation appeared high but warned of possible "shortcomings."
"There are shortcomings that we have to check. We don't know yet whether it was a pattern or whether it was a question of bad organisation in certain polling stations," said the EU's chief observer Elmar Brok.
"In some cases it [voting queues] works very smoothly but in others we see that it is totally disorganised and that people become angry; people leave," Brok told reporters in Harare.
"We have not found out whether that is coincidence or bad organisation," he said.
"Overall [there was] a huge amount of voting – especially young people, mostly in a very good atmosphere, generally peaceful, which is positive."
In the run
Mugabe, 94, who was ousted by the military in November, voted at his customary polling station in Harare alongside his wife Grace after a surprise two-hour press conference at his home on Sunday when he called for voters to reject ZANU-PF.
Wearing a dark suit and red tie, Mugabe was greeted with cheers after casting his ballot but did not answer journalists' questions about who he voted for.
Mnangagwa, who voted in his Kwekwe constituency in central Zimbabwe, said Mugabe had the right to express himself in the country's new "democratic space."
"I am very happy that the process for campaigning was peaceful [and] voting today is peaceful," he added.
Mnangagwa, 75, has promised change and is the clear front-runner benefitting from tacit military support, loyal state media and ruling party controls of government resources.
The party controls 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 the youth vote.
"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, surrounded by vocal supporters.
He again raised fraud allegations saying his victory would be assured if rigged ballots were excluded.
Zimbabwe's generals shocked the world last year when they seized control and ushered Mnangagwa into power after Mugabe allegedly groomed his wife to succeed him.
The election is Zimbabwe's first without Mugabe, who led ZANU-PF to power on independence from Britain in 1980 and clung to power for 37 years.
Elections under Mugabe were marred by systematic fraud and often deadly violence but campaigning was relatively unrestricted and peaceful.
A recent Afrobarometer survey of 2,400 people put Mnangagwa on 40 percent and Chamisa on 37 percent, with 20 percent undecided.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of intimidation and threats of violence in the run-up to polling day, but said it was encouraged to see open rallies and peaceful demonstrations.
Old challenges, new government
The new government will face mass unemployment and an economy shattered by the seizure of white-owned farms under Mugabe, the collapse of agriculture, hyperinflation and an investment exodus.
Previously solid health and education services are in ruins and millions have fled abroad.
Life expectancy has only recently recovered to its 1985 level of 61 years.
"While investors remain sceptical over whether Mugabe's former right-hand man has indeed turned over a new leaf, Mnangagwa's charm offensive with Western governments and businesses has at least given him a credible lifeline at the poll," said Verisk Maplecrodt analyst Charles Laurie in a note.
In Harare, 32-year-old finance graduate Tinashe Dongo said he wanted "change" following Monday's vote.
"We want these degrees we hold to be put to use and for our kids to appreciate the value of education .... My main concern is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, it obviously has a preferred party," he said.