By Desmond Kumbuka, Godfrey Marawanyika, and Michael Cohen
Violence erupted in Zimbabwe’s capital after the ruling party secured a landslide win in the first parliamentary election of the post-Robert Mugabe era that Western observers said was marred by abuses.
The verdict by monitors from the European Union and the U.S. is likely to dent President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s drive to attract investors to rebuild the southern African nation after two decades of misrule and economic decline under Mugabe. The main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, said it may mount a legal challenge to the results.
Several hundred MDC supporters ripped down ruling-party posters in Harare and were confronted by anti-riot police firing tear-gas grenades and troops shooting live rounds. Protesters also converged on the Harare International Conference Centre, where the vote count is taking place, and blocked a road with stones, set an electoral commission flag on fire and shattered the windows of a security cubicle before being dispersed. A large crowd also gathered outside the commission’s Harare office, shouting MDC slogans.
While MDC presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa said on his Twitter account that “we have won the popular vote,” Mnangagwa called for calm, saying “now is the time for responsibility and above all, peace.”
The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute said that while the campaign was relatively free, there were “numerous incidents” of food and agricultural assistance and “extreme media bias” being used to secure support for Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. Earlier, the European Union said Zimbabwe didn’t achieve a “level playing field” in Monday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
“The improvements were likely insufficient to build broad public confidence that voters could make a choice adverse to the ruling establishment without fear of violence or other retribution should the position prevail,” the U.S. observers said.
With all results tallied, Mnangagwa’s party won 144 of the 210 directly elected seats in the National Assembly, electoral commission officials said Wednesday, while Chamisa’s MDC alliance secured 64. The remaining two posts went to the National Patriotic Front and an independent candidate.
Another 60 seats will be allocated to women based on the proportion of the vote their party wins. The ruling party is almost certain to secure a two-thirds majority in the assembly, enabling it to unilaterally change the constitution.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the country’s largest group of non-governmental organizations, said the July 30 election “falls short of a credible process.” It cited concerns that the voters’ roll hadn’t been released prior to the poll, about a fifth of results from the presidential ballot weren’t published outside polling stations and that some voters had been “deliberately displaced.”
The MDC also questioned the pace of releasing tallies from the presidential vote. The ruling party’s margin of victory in legislative elections makes Mnangagwa, 75, the favorite in that race, which featured 22 candidates. The outcome is likely to be announced on Thursday, Priscilla Chigumba, the chairwoman of the electoral commission, told reporters.
The ZEC “seeks to release results to buy time and reverse the people’s presidential election victory,” Chamisa said on his Twitter account. “The strategy is meant to prepare Zimbabwe mentally to accept fake presidential results.”
Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who took control of the MDC after the death of its founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February, said on Tuesday that based on his party’s own count of unofficial results from more than 90 percent of the 10,985 polling stations, the MDC was “winning resoundingly” and ready to form the next government.
Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu accused individuals and parties of inciting violence by declaring themselves winners before the results were announced.
African observers were much more positive about the election than their Western counterparts, who weren’t invited to scrutinize the last three votes.
A group from the Southern African Development Community said in preliminary findings that the campaign and vote were generally peaceful and in line with the law, describing it as “a watershed” in the country’s history. African Union observers found the election was by and large well administered despite some logistical challenges, and the electoral commission was well prepared.
The ruling party forced Mugabe to resign in November, when the military briefly seized control of the country, and replaced him with Mnangagwa, his former deputy and spy chief. Whoever wins the vote will have to administer a broke Treasury that’s unable to service its loans or take out new ones, leaving little scope to improve government services, rebuild crumbling transport links and meet a plethora of other election pledges.
“The ability for the new government to kick-start the economy will in a large part depend on to what extent it can mobilize external support for whatever reform program they will embark on,” said Mark Bohlund, an Africa economist at Bloomberg Economics. “There is arguably a strong desire to help Zimbabwe pave its way out the economic disaster of the last decades, but also an understandable suspicion of the real intent of the political and economic elite to change their ways.”
— With assistance by Brian Latham