The European Union on Saturday began deploying election observers in Zimbabwe for the first time in 16 years, ahead of next month’s vote.
The July 30 election will be the first in the country since veteran leader Robert Mugabe was ousted following a brief military takeover in November last year, after 37 years in power.
It will be a key test for incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded the long-serving autocrat Mugabe seven months ago, and remains untested at the ballot box.
He has pledged to hold free and fair elections as he seeks to mend international relations.
Mark Stevens, EU deputy chief observer, said 44 observers have started work, and this will rise to 140 on the day of the vote.
“The long term observers will cover all 10 provinces in both urban and rural areas,” he told reporters.
“They will observe the entire electoral process prior, during and after the harmonised elections, scheduled for July 30”.
Previous elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by electoral fraud, intimidation and violence, including the killing of scores of opposition supporters in 2008.
“The EU was very happy to receive an invitation to observe this election. We are very happy to deploy a mission,” said Stevens.
It is the first such EU mission to Zimbabwe since 2002, when the head of the team was expelled before the vote.
Brussels then imposed sanctions against Mugabe and several of his associates, accusing the regime of human rights abuses.