Emmerson Mnangagwa won Zimbabwe’s presidential election, a victory overshadowed by deadly protests, opposition allegations of rigging and threats of legal action, and criticism by observers that the contest was flawed.
The controversy surrounding the vote may undermine efforts to reunify the southern African nation and rebuild an economy battered by almost two decades of misrule under Robert Mugabe, who was forced to quit in November. The country also risks a repeat of unrest that claimed six lives on Wednesday, when soldiers fired live rounds at fleeing demonstrators.
Mnangagwa, leader of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, secured 50.8 percent of the vote, while his main rival Nelson Chamisa, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change, won 44.3 percent, Priscilla Chigumba, a judge who chairs the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, told reporters Friday in the capital, Harare. Results released Wednesday showed Zanu-PF winning almost 70 percent of the legislative vote.
“We delivered a free, fair and credible election as promised,” Mnangagwa told reporters at State House on Friday. “The violence of the past two days must be condemned loudly. We can’t allow the violent actions of the few to detract from the democratic aspirations of the many.”
Chamisa insisted he and his party were the real victors, with its tallies showing it had won 56 percent of the vote, and promised to mount a court challenge to the outcome.
The process was “fraudulent, illegal, illegitimate” and constituted “a coup against the will of the people,” Chamisa said at a press conference at Harare’s Bronte Hotel that was delayed by riot police armed with batons and shields who tried to disperse assembled journalists before withdrawing. “We have so much evidence to show how this election was rigged.”
The post-election violence will erode the international goodwill toward Zimbabwe since Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe as president and pledged to hold credible elections, according to Christopher McKee, chief executive officer of New York-based risk advisory firm PRS Group.
“It matters little whether this heavy-handed response came on Mnangagwa’s orders,” McKee said in emailed comments. “Evidence that the president lacks the authority to control the security forces will be just as damning in terms of the impact on Zimbabwe’s international rehabilitation. Risks related to military involvement in politics and the quality and responsiveness of political institutions will remain a concern in Zimbabwe.”
Zanu-PF’s election pledges include an undertaking to respect property rights and maintain a stable and predictable business environment, while also ensuring the retail industry is reserved for black Zimbabweans and forcing mineral producers to process part of their output within the country to create jobs. It’s targeting $5 billion a year in foreign direct investment, up from the $289 million the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development says the country received last year.
Mnangagwa described the violence as “an unfortunate incident” and called on Chamisa to work with him to promote peace and unity, saying he had “a crucial role to play.” Zimbabwe is a democracy, and anyone has the right to challenge the results in court, he said.
“The time for politics is now behind us; now begins the time to work for progress,” Mnangawa said. “We all want the same thing, to be stronger and to succeed as a nation.”
The police haven’t take a similarly conciliatory approach. Prior to the incident at the Bronte Hotel, they sealed off the opposition’s headquarters in Harare after obtaining a search warrant to look for grenades, firearms, ammunition, computers and stones, and arrested 18 people. They also secured warrants to search Chamisa’s residence and those of several other opposition leaders.
The police later apologized for the actions of its officers at the Bronte, saying “we respect freedom of the media, freedom of expression and freedom of association” and that ‘this isolated incident should not be misconstrued to mean that we are heavy handed.”
Chamisa accused the police of harassing and intimidating MDC leaders, and said that while several documents that proved the rigging had been seized, the party had backup copies.
He also alleged that the electoral commission’s computer systems were open to manipulation and more people had cast ballots in some areas than appeared on the voters’ roll. He’d previously complained that controls over ballot papers were inadequate and that the electoral commission was biased in favor of the ruling party.
The integrity of the election was also found lacking by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a local association of 34 civil rights and religious organizations that deployed about 6,500 election observers. It said the ruling party used state resources to campaign and food aid to entice people to vote for it and enjoyed more favorable media coverage. It also said the final voters’ roll was released too late to analyze it.
Western observers were equally critical, with European Union monitors saying there wasn’t a “level playing field” in the election. The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute from the U.S. said that improvements in the political environment probably weren’t enough to convince voters that they could oppose the ruling party without fear of violence or other retribution.