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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

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

8 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.