Zim on edge as Chamisa claims win

Emmerson Mnangagwa
Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change party claimed victory on Tuesday in the country’s historic elections, setting the scene for a showdown with the ruling Zanu-PF that has held power since independence in 1980.

Senior MDC official Tendai Biti said party leader Nelson Chamisa had won the presidential race, and alleged that the authorities were delaying the publication of results.

“The results show beyond reasonable doubt that we have won the election and that the next president of Zimbabwe is Nelson Chamisa,” Biti told a media conference at the party’s headquarters in Harare.

“We are, however, seriously concerned about evidence of interference.

“There is a deliberate delay in announcing the results.

“This delay is totally unacceptable.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, has also said he was confident of victory in Zimbabwe’s first election since former leader Robert Mugabe, 94, was ousted in November after 37 years in power.

“The information from our reps on the ground is extremely positive! Waiting patiently for official results as per the constitution,” Mnangagwa said on Twitter early on Tuesday.

The rival claims pointed to a contested result, raising the prospect of competing fraud allegations and a possible run-off vote in September – required if no candidate wins at least 50% of ballots in the first round.

The government, meanwhile, warned election candidates they faced prosecution and jail for prematurely announcing results of the landmark polls.

“We have noted with concern the actions and conduct of some political party leaders, who are openly declaring that they will announce results irrespective of provisions of the law,” home affairs minister Obert Mpofu said in Harare.

“I am sure no one wants to risk being sent to jail.” Analysts have said it is unclear whether the country’s generals, who ousted Mugabe and ushered Mnangagwa into office, will accept a win by the MDC.

Defeat for the ruling party would likely lead “to a denunciation of the election by the Mnangagwa administration and the potential for the military to intervene to secure power for Zanu-PF”, the London-based BMI risk consultancy said.

“I am scared – is there going to be unrest?” Stone Sibanda, a 39-year-old taxi driver in Harare, said.

“It is a very sensitive moment. Everyone is anxious.”

Early results from the elections – presidential, parliamentary and local – were expected later on Tuesday, and full results are due by Saturday.

Nelson Chamisa
Nelson Chamisa

At one polling station in the capital Harare, officials counted large piles of ballots using gas lanterns and candles late into the night on Monday.

If required, Zimbabwe’s 5.6 million registered voters would be asked to return to the polls to vote in a presidential run-off on September 8.

Zimbabwe’s much-criticised election authority declared on Tuesday that the vote had been free of rigging – though the count was not yet completed.

Once-banned European Union election observers, present for the first time in years, warned of possible problems in the polling process.

The bloc will deliver a preliminary report on the conduct of the election on Wednesday, as will the Southern African Development Community and the African Union teams.

Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former right-hand man in Zanu-PF, was the clear election frontrunner, benefitting from tacit military support, loyal state media and ruling party controls of government resources.

But Chamisa, 40, a lawyer and pastor who performed strongly on the campaign trail, sought to tap into the youth and urban vote.