Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s president and leader of the ruling Zanu-PF party, has won the country’s historic and hotly contested presidential election.
Officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced early on Friday that Mnangagwa had received 2.46m votes, or 50.8% of the 4.8m votes cast. Nelson Chamisa, the candidate of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC), won 2.14m votes or 44.3%, the ZEC said. Mnangagwa needed to win by more than 50% to avoid a runoff vote.
Mnangagwa, 75, was a close aide of Robert Mugabe, the 94-year-old autocrat who ruled for 37 years and was ousted by the army nine months ago, and was implicated in atrocities committed under his rule. Chamisa, 40, is a former lawyer and pastor.
Priscilla Chigumba, the chair of the ZEC, urged the country to “move on” with the hopeful spirit of election day and beyond the “blemishes” of Wednesday’s “chaos”, when the army opened fire on protesters in Harare, killing six people. “May God bless this nation and its people,” she said.
Mnangagwa tweeted that he was “humbled” by the result. “This is a new beginning. Let us join hands, in peace, unity & love, & together build a new Zimbabwe for all!” he said.
Thank you Zimbabwe!
I am humbled to be elected President of the Second Republic of Zimbabwe.
Though we may have been divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams.
This is a new beginning. Let us join hands, in peace, unity & love, & together build a new Zimbabwe for all! pic.twitter.com/FbdrixAktR
— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) August 2, 2018
On Friday morning Chamisa called the results “fake” and said the electoral commission should release “proper and verified” numbers. “The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay & values deficit is baffling,” he said on Twitter.
The MDC had rejected the results even before they had been announced in full. Minutes before the final result, the MDC’s chairman, Morgan Komichi, made an impromptu televised statement at the commission, saying the election was “fraudulent” and that the party would challenge the results in court. He was then removed from the stage by police.
A few Mnangagwa supporters celebrated near the entrance to the conference centre where the results were declared but there was little in the way of public celebrations in Harare other than some car horns.
Charity Manyeruke, who teaches political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said she was delighted. “There is continuity, stability,” she said at the conference centre. “Zimbabwe is poised for nation-building.”
The Zimbabwean capital was calm on Friday morning, the pavements filled with people going to work. Many also gathered around newspaper stands. The army, a visible presence this week, had withdrawn by 7am. A police presence remained, with two vehicles equipped with water cannon outside the MDC headquarters and an armoured vehicle full of riot police.
Most MDC supporters appeared resigned to the result and unwilling to take to the streets to protest. “We are just accepting whatever is there for the sake of peace, for the sake of business and calm. Life goes on. I wouldn’t support a protest. Check what happened this week when people tried it,” said Shepherd Warikandwe, a 38-year-old chef.
Hazel Moyo, a 25-year-old supermarket cashier who had voted for the first time, said that protesting would make no difference. “We will just have to put up with it. We need change but will have to wait some more,” she said.
The count took more than three days, leading to growing tensions and calls from the international community for a swift resolution.
Although the campaign has been free of the systematic violence that marred previous polls, the MDC repeatedly claimed it was hindered by a flawed electoral roll, ballot paper malpractice, voter intimidation, bias in the electoral commission and handouts to voters from the ruling party. Several of its complaints have been upheld by monitors’ reports.
Eighteen opposition officials were detained by police during a raid on the MDC’s headquarters in Harare on Thursday afternoon.
Prof Stephen Chan, an expert in African politics at the University of London, said the election could be judged “plausible to credible” but could not be called “free and fair”.
Chan, who is in Zimbabwe, said he believed the problems with the count were down to incompetence rather than conspiracy but that the alleged irregularities before the poll could have been significant, especially in avoiding a runoff.
“The narrowness of the result suggests that Mnangagwa is the last of the Zanu-PF giants and that at the next election the opposition will have everything to play for,” he said.
Mnangagwa’s share of the vote was lower than some expected. Zanu-PF had swept to a two-thirds majority in simultaneous parliamentary elections and was broadly considered the favourite by analysts. But the opposition campaign gathered significant momentum in the last days of campaigning.
The announcement of the result was delayed while figures for Mashonaland West, a major province and Zanu-PF stronghold, were finalised, and was disrupted by an MDC spokesman who said the party rejected the results because they had not been verified by polling agents.
All polling station data would be made available to the media and party officials, the ZEC said.
Zimbabwe now faces new uncertainty and a potential period of instability. The country si hoping to reintegrate into the international community after years of isolation. Foreign powers will have to decide whether the elections give Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF the legitimacy needed to seek to rejoin institutions such as the Commonwealth.
Without a massive and rapid infusion of foreign aid, the country is also facing total economic breakdown.
Polls had earlier given Mnangagwa, a dour former spy chief known as “the Crocodile” for his reputation for ruthless cunning, a slim lead over Chamisa, a brilliant if sometimes wayward orator.
Support for Zanu-PF has historically been strongest in rural areas, where more than two-thirds of voters live. The party dominated its traditional heartland provinces of Mashonaland Central and East, while the MDC won the major cities of Harare and Bulawayo convincingly.