President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been declared the victor in Zimbabwe’s presidential election, after results released late Thursday showed him with 50.8 of the votes – just enough above the required threshold to avoid a September 8 runoff.
Mnangagwa received 2,460,463 votes compared with challenger Nelson Chamisa, the MDC Alliance candidate who received 2,147,436 votes for 44.4 percent. The MDC Alliance has refused to accept the results, in what many Zimbabweans are calling an “Odinga,” referring to the Kenyan presidential candidate whose Nasa coalition party successfully challenged last year’s flawed election in court before President Uhuru Kenyatta ultimately prevailed.
Mnangagwa appealed for unity in his own message. “Though we may have been divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams,” he said. “This is a new beginning.”
His appeal for peace and love in the much-heralded “new Zimbabwe” contrasted sharply with reality. The situation remained tense in Harare, police said, a day after the simmering cauldron of frustration boiled over into electoral violence on Wednesday. At least six people died in clashes between government forces and angry throngs holding demonstrations in Harare.
The developments left the country on edge as they waited for results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which released numbers from nine of the 10 provinces before stalling on the final count in dramatic fashion. Mnangagwa, at that point, was already clearly ahead.
The news that the Zanu PF party retained a two-thirds majority in parliament, coupled with the delay until Thursday for presidential election tallies, had sparked protests amid bitter accusations that the ZEC was rigging the vote in favor of Mnangagwa. More than a dozen MDC supporters were arrested.
Chamisa and his MDC Alliance were consistent in claiming victory in the popular vote. “President Nelson Chamisa ran a strong and committed campaign. He won this and ZEC cannot rig this election,” said Nkululeko Sibanda, an MDC spokesman for Chamisa. “Zimbabwe will have its new beginning.”
Chamisa accused ZEC of trying to buy time to reverse the MDC success; the bold statements from Chamisa and the MDC’s Tendai Biti prompted calls to hold them accountable for the violence, although Biti was quick to condemn the rioting and blamed the government.
“The MDC Alliance is a peaceful and constitutional body. For years we have fought oppression through peaceful and constitutional means,” he said. “We condemn all forms of violence, and use of the army against an unarmed civilian population. We condemn the murders of compatriots.”
Mnangagwa blamed the MDC for “this day that ended in tragedy” and called for calm. “We hold the opposition MDC Alliance and its whole leadership responsible for this disturbance of national peace, which was meant to disrupt the electoral process,” Mnangagwa said.
“Equally, we hold the party and its leadership responsible for any loss of life, injury or damage of property that arise from these acts of political violence which they have aided and abetted,” he added. Last week, Zimbabwe’s president threatened to arrest Chamisa and the MDC, referring to a “certain party” while echoing Chamisa’s bold warning of chaos and a national shutdown if MDC lost the elections.
Mnangagwa’s government quickly invoked a Public Order and Security Act (POSA) to authorize the Zimbabwe Defense Forces to assist police in restoring order. Harare police authorities said they planned to question Biti and MDC Alliance leader Happison Chidziva while investigating their role in the violence.
The government also warned of arrests if unauthorized and independent vote counts were released by politicians or civil society actors, such as ZESN or Citizens Manifesto, before the ZEC announcements.
Meanwhile, the MISA Zimbabwe media advocacy organization warned that Zimbabwe security forces interfered with reporters and forced them to turn off their cameras while covering the Harare riots. The group condemned the interference and launched a hotline to assist injured or arrested journalists.
The international community was quick to express its concern over Zimbabwe’s electoral violence, including the British, Canadian and United States missions.
Election observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the European Union all presented their initial reports, with the EU praising an improved political climate but expressing concerns over the process.
“The misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behavior by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media, all in favor of the ruling party, meant that a truly level playing field was not achieved,” the EU said. This negatively impacted “the democratic character of the electoral environment.”
The SADC noted a “remarkable improvement in the exercise and protection of civil and political rights in Zimbabwe compared to the 2008 Presidential elections,” while the AU noted the low confidence in the impartiality of ZEC and its ability to conduct transparent and credible elections.
As the violence escalated, former Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Dessalegn – the head of the AU observer mission in Zimbabwe – called on political leaders and their supporters to exercise restraint and avoid violent confrontation, as did United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
Electoral violence has all too often marked Zimbabwe’s political history and high hopes were held for a “new Zimbabwe” to follow the Robert Mugabe years, both within and outside of the country. On the other hand, skepticism over Mnangagwa and the entrenched Zanu PF party leadership ran rampant in Zimbabwe, where people know too well the economic hardship, repression and resistance to reforms.
They also questioned whether Mnangagwa, installed as president without an election last November after Mugabe was forced out with military assistance, really intended to honor a democratic process.
International observers and human rights organizations became increasingly concerned about this year’s elections after a June 23 explosion at a Mnangagwa rally in Bulawayo that the president considered an assassination attempt. Human Rights Watch, which warned of a “calm before the storm” on Tuesday, also noted a climate of intimidation.
Images: President Emmerson Mnangagwa, HRW East Africa