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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Zimbabwe opposition rejects presidential election result

Incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa declared winner with a 50.8 per cent of the vote

Supporters of Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrate in the capital Harare on August 3, 2018. AFP
Supporters of Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrate in the capital Harare on August 3, 2018. AFP

Zimbabwe's opposition on Friday rejected what it said were the "fake" results of landmark elections in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared victor.

Zimbabwe awoke to the news that Mr Mnangagwa, a former ally of ex-president Robert Mugabe, had won the historic first polls since the autocrat's ousting last year.

The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) announced that Mr Mnangagwa had received 50.8 per cent of the vote, against 44.3 per cent for Nelson Chamisa, the main opposition leader.

The narrow margin is just enough to avoid a run-off that would have been called if Mr Mnangagwa had won less than half of the vote.

Mr Chamisa lashed out at what he called "unverified fake results".

"The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay & values deficit is baffling," he wrote on Twitter.

Mr Mnangagwa, who was chosen as Mr Mugabe's successor in the ruling Zanu-PF party in November after the brief military intervention that deposed the veteran leader, hailed his victory as a "new beginning" for Zimbabwe.

"Though we may have been divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams," he tweeted.

Opposition allegations of foul play had already sparked a deadly crackdown on protesters in the capital Harare on Wednesday when troops opened fire, killing six.

Soldiers and police had cleared the city centre on Thursday as the government vowed not to tolerate any more protests.

But by Friday the streets and markets were crowded as usual.

An army truck and two water cannon were parked outside MDC headquarters, and 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 Mr Mnangagwa had won by a wafer-thin margin.

"It just shows that this was a free and fair election," he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of neighbouring South Africa called to congratulate Mr Mnangagwa, promising to work closely with him and calling on "all political leaders and the people of Zimbabwe to accept the outcome".

Mr Ramaphosa expressed concern over the protest deaths, but also emphasised that the opposition "must follow legal remedies provided for in the constitution and electoral law" if they disputed the results.

Analysts EXX Africa said they expected the situation to calm over the next few weeks, with big protests unlikely "due to the heavy-handed security crackdown in the capital and other cities".

Human Rights Watch said the deadly response suggested that Zimbabwe's security forces were "as abusive as ever", and called for an immediate inquiry into the violence.

Mr Mnangagwa said on Thursday that he wanted on independent investigation into the killings, saying he sought to settle differences "peacefully".

An opposition party spokesman denounces the election vote count as "fake" moments before the official result was announced. AFP
An opposition party spokesman denounces the election vote count as "fake" moments before the official result was announced. AFP

Since independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe has known only two presidents - Mr Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist for 37 years, and his erstwhile right-hand man Mr 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 Mr Chamisa has repeatedly alleged that the vote was rigged, charging that the electoral commission - synonymous with fraud under Mr Mugabe -- had once more helped Zanu-PF to steal an election.

An MDC spokesman said early on 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.

Turnout was more than 80 per cent in most of the country's 10 provinces.

In the parliamentary election, also held on Monday, Zanu-PF won easily.

International observers have praised the largely peaceful conduct of the election itself, though 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.

"It means our suffering will continue," said Emion Chitsate, a security guard at a shopping centre in the Waterfalls district of Harare, said after the result.

"It's the same Zanu-PF which brought us to where we are."

Elections were often marred by fraud and deadly violence under Mr Mugabe, but ZEC chairwoman Priscilla Chigumba has flatly rejected allegations of bias and rigging this time around.

Mr Mnangagwa, 75, was the clear election front-runner, but Mr Chamisa - a lawyer and pastor 35 years his junior - sought to tap into the youth and urban vote.

Mr 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 must now tackle mass unemployment and an economy shattered by the Mugabe-backed seizure of white-owned farms, the collapse of agriculture, hyperinflation and an investment exodus.

Previously sound health and education services are in ruins and millions have fled abroad to seek work.

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Read more:

Ruling party Zanu-PF wins majority of parliamentary seats in Zimbabwe election

Only with true democracy can Zimbabwe move past the Mugabe years

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