By Godfrey Marawanyika, Michael Cohen,
Brian Latham, Antony Sguazzin And Karl Maier
Emmerson Mnangagwa won Zimbabwe’s presidential election, a victory for the ruling Zanu-PF party overshadowed by deadly protests, opposition allegations of rigging 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.
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 has moved swiftly to restore calm and called for an independent investigation into the violence. He said he’d held talks with Chamisa on ways to defuse the tension, offered condolences to the victims’ families and described the deaths as a tragedy.
“We believe in transparency and accountability, and those responsible should be identified and brought to justice,” Mnangagwa said on Twitter. “The most important thing for us now is to move beyond yesterday’s tragic events and to move forward together.”
The police didn’t take a similarly conciliatory approach — 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.
Chamisa told reporters earlier on Thursday that he didn’t know why the police were looking for him.
“We know the results of presidential votes and we are ahead,” Chamisa said. “We condemn the use of the army on civilians. Yesterday’s incident was just one of many. Our people have been at the receiving end for the last 18 years.”
Chamisa also alleged that the electoral commission’s computer systems were open to manipulation and that 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.