Zimbabwe’s new opposition leader faces vote

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Ahead of Zimbabwe’s crucial elections this year, the biggest opposition party has selected a charismatic lawyer and pastor to challenge the military-backed president in the first vote without former leader Robert Mugabe in decades.

It will be a hard road for 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, who became head of the MDC-T party this month after the February death from cancer of Morgan Tsvangirai. Chamisa will face President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former confidant of Mugabe. Mnangagwa, 75, fell out with Mugabe last year amid factional squabbling and was sworn in after a military intervention in November.

Chamisa is banking on sympathy for Tsvangirai, a prominent figure who challenged Mugabe and later joined a troubled coalition with him. Without Tsvangirai the MDC-T party has now fractured, with some violence.

“Tsvangirai has been our best foot forward. He had a lot of goodwill and I am inheriting all the positives. We are simply harvesting,” Chamisa told The Associated Press in an interview held in a party boardroom adorned with pictures of his predecessor.

Whatever happens at the polls expected in midyear, Zimbabwe will be experiencing something new.

Mugabe, 94, was the southern African nation’s only leader since independence from white minority rule in 1980, a period that began with promise and descended into economic turmoil and repression as the aging ruler clung to power. In his first interview since his resignation, Mugabe last week called his ouster a “coup” and said “we must undo this disgrace.”