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A whopping 23 presidential candidates including President Emmerson Mnangagwa registered Thursday to contest in Zimbabwe’s July 30 elections.

It is the highest number of presidential aspirants since the country’s independence in 1980.

The figure was declared by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission at the close of the nomination court Thursday night.

Among the 23 presidential candidates are Mnangagwa’s main challenger Nelson Chamisa, the 40-year-old leader of the main opposition MDC Alliance.

Other notables are former Zimbabwe vice president and leader of the opposition National People’s Party Joice Mujuru, leader of the splinter MDC-T Thokozani Khupe and former cabinet minister in former president Robert Mugabe’s government Nkosana Moyo.

Ambrose Mutinhiri, leader of the opposition National Patriotic Front that reportedly has the backing of Mugabe also filed his nomination papers.

Leader of the National Constitutional Assembly and constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku and famous stone sculpture Brian Taurai Mteki also filed their papers.

Mnangagwa’s papers were filed by his election agent and justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi who immediately declared that the ruling party was ready for the polls.

Mnangagwa becomes the first presidential candidate for the ruling party after Mugabe resigned in November last year amid a military intervention, which ended his 37-years stay in power.

Ziyambi said the high number of candidates wishing to contest the presidential poll was a sign of the opening up of the democratic space in Zimbabwe.

“I think we have opened up the democratic space and everyone is excited. They feel that they can enter the race and contest which is good. In any democracy you should allow people to freely express themselves and contest,” he told reporters after filing Mnangagwa’s papers.

The nomination courts sat countrywide Thursday to receive papers of candidates that will contest in the presidential, National Assembly and council elections. Enditem

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