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Millions of Zimbabweans are voting today in the first election since 1980 without former president Robert Mugabe on the ballot.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe's former vice-president whose nickname is "the crocodile", is now president and the ruling ZANU-PF party's presidential candidate. Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa, head of the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, are widely seen as the top challengers.

The big picture...

  • There are 23 candidates vying for the presidency, while 55 parties are running in parliamentary elections. 
  • Campaigning has been relatively peaceful but security concerns were raised after an explosion struck an election rally by the ruling ZANU-PF party in the second city of Bulawayo, killing at least two people and wounding dozens.
  • Unlike previous votes, election observers from the European Union and the Commonwealth group have been allowed into Zimbabwe this time.

The front-runners...

  • A presidential candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round to secure an outright victory. The latest polls show a close race between 75-year-old Mnangagwa and 40-year-old Chamisa, making a runoff on September 8 likely.
  • The MDC Alliance has accused the country's electoral commission of favouring the ZANU-PF in its design of the two-column ballot. Mnangagwa appears at the top of the second column while Chamisa appears second on the first column.
  • Mugabe broke with the party he led for three decades yesterday, saying that he "cannot vote for those who have tormented me."

The top issue...

  • The issues of the economy and job creation have topped political debate in the lead-up to the vote, with all presidential hopefuls promising to fix the country's financial situation, which has been in meltdown for the past two decades.
  • At least 60 percent of the 5.6 million registered voters are under the age of 40, and experts expect this to play a key role in the closely contested election.
  • Go deeper: Zimbabwe's youth cautiously optimistic election will bring change.

Go deeper

The recovery needs rocket fuel

Data: BLS. Chart: Axios Visuals

Friday's deeply disappointing jobs report should light a fire under Congress, which has dithered despite signs the economy is struggling to kick back into gear.

Driving the news: President-elect Biden said Friday afternoon in Wilmington that he supports another round of $1,200 checks.

1 hour ago - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

3 hours ago - World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.