Zimbabwe’s opposition on Friday rejected what it said were the “fake” results of landmark elections in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared victor.
The former ally of Robert Mugabe won 50.8 percent of the vote in Monday’s historic first polls since the autocrat’s ousting last year, according to the Zimbabwe Election Commission — just enough to avoid a run-off against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who scored 44.3 percent.
Chamisa, who has lashed out at what he called “unverified fake results”, was due to give a press conference in the capital Harare on Friday but it was broken up by several dozen riot police armed with tear gas cannisters.
Tense exchanges followed as police ejected journalists from the hotel, but Chamisa’s spokesman said shortly after that the press conference would go ahead.
Mnangagwa, who was chosen as Mugabe’s successor in the ruling ZANU-PF party in November after the brief military intervention that deposed him, hailed the election result as a “new beginning” for Zimbabwe.
Opposition allegations of foul play had already sparked a deadly crackdown on protesters in Harare on Wednesday when troops opened fire, killing six.
Soldiers and police had cleared the city centre Thursday as the government vowed not to tolerate any more protests, but by Friday the streets and markets were crowded as usual.
In the suburb of Mbare, jubilant ZANU-PF supporters waved party banners as music blared from a car.
“This is a new Zimbabwe, we are happy,” said Tendai Mugadzi, a 32-year-old IT specialist.
He was untroubled that Mnangagwa had won by a wafer-thin margin.
“It just shows that this was a free and fair election,” he said.
– ‘Mugabe’s baggage’ –
Chamisa blasted the handling of the election, writing on Twitter: “The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay & values deficit is baffling.”
But President Cyril Ramaphosa of neighbouring South Africa swiftly called for political leaders to accept the result, calling Mnangagwa to congratulate him.
Ramaphosa, in a statement, expressed concern over the protest deaths, but said the opposition “must follow legal remedies provided for in the constitution and electoral law” if they disputed the results.
“Mnangagwa’s task was not just to win the election, but to convince the international community of a new Zimbabwe by winning it cleanly and fairly,” said Charles Laurie of analysts Verisk Maplecroft.
“The killing of six protestors and questions over his government’s conduct at the polls, means Mnangagwa drags virtually all of Mugabe’s baggage into his presidency,” he added.
He called the swift crackdown on protests “a stark demonstration of how Mnangagwa intends to rule”.
Since independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe has known only two presidents — Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist for 37 years, and his onetime right-hand man Mnangagwa.
The new president had promised a free and fair vote that would turn the page on years of brutal repression, end Zimbabwe’s international isolation and attract foreign investment to revive the shattered economy.
But Chamisa has repeatedly alleged that the vote was rigged, charging that the electoral commission — synonymous with fraud under Mugabe — had once more helped ZANU-PF to steal an election.
A spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said early Friday that the party was planning to take the outcome to the courts, though a legal challenge appears to offer little hope of overturning the outcome.
The electoral commission has rejected allegations of bias and rigging, and international observers praised the largely peaceful conduct of the vote itself.
But European Union monitors said they found an “un-level playing field” that stacked various factors in favour of ZANU-PF, including heavy coverage by state media.
– Huge challenges ahead –
Turnout was high at over 80 percent in most of the country’s 10 provinces.
In the parliamentary election, also held on Monday, ZANU-PF won easily.
Mnangagwa, 75, was the clear election front-runner, but Chamisa — a lawyer and pastor 35 years his junior — sought to appeal to young and urban voters.
Mnangagwa was allegedly involved in voter intimidation during the 2008 elections when then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off after at least 200 of his supporters were killed in attacks.
The president faces massive challenges in his promise to restore an economy that Mugabe left in disastrous shape, presiding over the seizure of white-owned farms, a hyperinflationary surge and an investment exodus.
Previously solid health and education services are in ruins, while millions of Zimbabweans have fled abroad to seek work.
“We cannot even tell where we are going from here,” said Stephen Nyangani, a 34-year-old clothes designer in Harare who does not earn enough to pay for school fees for his two children.
“I doubt our lives will improve,” he added.