World

Zimbabwe’s opposition alleges ‘gigantic fraud’ in election result

Election observers had reported an atmosphere of intimidation against voters (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Election observers had reported an atmosphere of intimidation against voters (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Election observers had reported an atmosphere of intimidation against voters (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader has alleged “blatant and gigantic fraud” after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared winner of another troubled election.

The results were announced on Saturday night, two days earlier than expected, after international observers had reported an atmosphere of intimidation against voters.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa promised to address the country soon as his Citizens Coalition for Change party said it would reject the results as “hastily assembled without proper verification”.

“They stole your voice and vote but never your hope,” Mr Chamisa wrote in a post on Twitter, now rebranded as X, in his first public reaction to the results. “It’s a blatant and gigantic fraud.”

People in the country of 15 million are bound to view the results with suspicion.

International election observers have noted problems with the election, held on Wednesday and Thursday, citing an atmosphere of intimidation against Mr Chamisa’s supporters.

In the build-up to the vote, international rights groups reported there had been a crackdown on opposition to Mr Mnangagwa and the long-ruling Zanu-PF party, which had used the police and courts to harass and intimidate opposition officials and supporters, the rights groups said.

Before the election, Mr Chamisa alleged in an interview with The Associated Press that his party’s rallies had been broken up by police and his supporters had often been intimidated and threatened with violence.

An election observer takes pictures at an opposition campaign rally in Harare
An election observer takes pictures at an opposition campaign rally in Harare Election observers had reported an atmosphere of intimidation against voters (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

The actual election was also problematic and voting was extended into an extra day on Thursday because of a shortage of ballot papers, especially in the capital, Harare, and other urban areas that are opposition strongholds. People slept at polling stations to make sure they were able to vote.

Mr Mnangagwa’s victory meant Zanu-PF retained the governmental leadership it has held for all 43 years of Zimbabwe’s history since the nation was renamed following independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Mr Mnangagwa, 80, was re-elected for a second and final five-year term with 52.6% of the vote, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Mr Chamisa, 45, who also lost to Mr Mnangagwa in a very close and disputed election five years ago, won 44% of the vote this time, the commission said. Zanu-PF also kept its parliamentary majority.

“This is a very happy occasion indeed,” said Ziyambi Ziyambi, an election agent for Mr Mnangagwa and a cabinet minister. “Zimbabweans have shown confidence in our president and Zanu-PF.”

Zimbabwe has a history of disputed and sometimes violent elections in the more than four decades of Zanu-PF rule, most notably under autocratic former president Robert Mugabe, who was leader for 37 years and oversaw a period of economic collapse that gained Zimbabwe international notoriety.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa addresses a press conference at State House in Harare on Sunday
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa addresses a press conference at State House in Harare on Sunday Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa addresses a press conference at State House in Harare on Sunday (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Mr Mugabe’s regime also resulted in the United Nations and European Union applying sanctions on Zimbabwe for alleged human rights abuses. Those sanctions are largely still in place.

Mr Mugabe was removed from power in a military-led coup in 2017 and replaced with Mr Mnangagwa, his former vice president. The coup was widely popular and celebrated as a new dawn, but while Mr Mnangagwa promised an era of freedom and prosperity, critics have alleged the former guerrilla fighter nicknamed “the crocodile” has become as repressive as his predecessor.

Zimbabwe has had just those two leaders in more than four decades of independence.

The 2023 election results were released at around 1130pm on Saturday at the official results centre in Harare, taking many by surprise. They came just 48 hours after polls closed in the delayed elections, when election officials had planned to announce the results five days after voting ended.

“We reject any results hastily assembled without proper verification,” said Promise Mkwananzi, a spokesperson for Mr Chamisa’s party, minutes after the results were announced. “We will advise citizens on the next steps as the situation develops.”

While the outcome is likely to be closely scrutinised, Mr Chamisa’s party did not immediately announce if it would challenge them through the courts. Mr Chamisa challenged his 2018 election loss to Mr Mnangagwa, but that was rejected by the Constitutional Court.

Supporters of President Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrate after he was declared the winner by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
Supporters of President Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrate after he was declared the winner by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Supporters of President Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrate after he was declared the winner by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

The election observers said they had specific concerns in this vote over a ruling party affiliate organisation called Forever Associates of Zimbabwe (FAZ) that they said set up tables at polling stations and took details of people walking into voting booths.

The head of the African Union observer mission, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, said the FAZ activities should be declared “criminal offences”.

More than 40 local vote monitors were also arrested on allegations of subversion that government critics said were trumped-up charges.

Ahead of Saturday’s announcement of the results, dozens of armed police with water cannons guarded the national results centre. It was the scene of deadly violence following the election five years ago, when soldiers killed six people during protests.

There was no sign of unrest early on Sunday. Streets in Harare that would normally be bustling with late-night vendors were empty soon after the announcement as people were digesting the results and another Zanu-PF victory, which would take the party’s rule to nearly half a century.

“It’s done. It never changes,” said Gerald Chosawa, a security guard at a grocery store. “I had some hope.”

“Now it’s better to prepare to join the others who have left the country. That’s the best option.”