The ruling Zanu-PF party appears to be heading for a convincing victory in Zimbabwe’s landmark election, winning the majority of seats in parliament with more than two thirds of the results declared, and the opposition trailing by a large margin.
The results of the poll, the first in 38 years without Robert Mugabe in power, came far earlier than Zimbabwe’s Election Commission (ZEC) had forecast and were immediately enmeshed in bitter accusations and recriminations, with political rivals the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) alliance claiming there had been widespread fraud and warning of street protests.
There was a veiled threat of violence from the MDC, with Secretary General Douglas Mwonzora saying “If Zanu-PF and ZEC try to cheat, we are confident that the people of Zimbabwe will react. How they react we have absolutely no idea nor do we have any control. Therefore, we are just hoping that the people will be respected.”
The latest figures show acting President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s party heading for a sizeable majority, getting 110 seats. The MDC have 41 seats and the NPF (National Patriotic Front), sponsored by Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace, have one. Fifty-eight seats are still to be declared.
The outcome of the parallel vote for the presidency is due to be announced in the next 24 hours. Although MDC leader Nelson Chamisa claimed victory the day before, during and after voting, indications have pointed towards a Mnangagwa win. However, there will be a second round in September if no candidate passes the 50 per cent barrier.
Ironically, the MDC accused ZEC on Tuesday of a delay in announcing the results to enable manipulation by Zanu-PF to take place and warned that legal action was being taken to speed up the proceedings. The figures on Wednesday morning came after the count for 39 seats were revealed Tuesday evening.
As the opposition renewed accusations of fraud, there was a rise in the presence of police, with carriers and water cannons, in Harare. It was the first overt sign of security forces patrolling the streets of the capital in an election campaign which had remained largely peaceful despite a grenade attack in a rally addressed by Mr Mnangagwa a month ago.
The MDC claimed it had won the election on Tuesday evening and blamed election authorities for allowing malpractice. Tendai Biti, a MDC official and former finance minister, said: “Some election results that were supposed to be posted outside voting stations were not available and there has been a deliberate interference with the people’s will, shown by delays in announcing the elections results.”
The MDC, however, later modified its position, saying it was not the party but civic society groups who were taking the legal action. No confirmation of this has come from any of the groups.
The MDC maintains that mandatory voting results forms were not posted at more than 20 per cent of the country’s polling stations in an effort to hide the fact that it had won. With repeated declarations of victory coming from their leaders, MDC supporters began to gather outside party headquarters in the afternoon. The mood was celebratory, with dancing to music emanating from a sound system mounted on a lorry.
But there was annoyance and anger as water cannon trucks passed them twice on the road heading for the city centre.
“I hope they are not going to be used against the people. I hope Zanu-PF are not up to their tricks again to steal the election as they have done in the past,” said 26-year-old Evermore Tsitsi, taking a break from the dancing.
“If they are, there will be big trouble, big trouble.”
His companion, Andrew Tawananyasha, 29, wanted to stress, “ZEC has shown that it cannot be trusted, it is working with Zanu-PF. In the past, we have backed down to avoid bloodshed, but this time we must seize our chance, we shall fight if we have to, we are prepared.”
Mr Chamisa has stated a number of times that there would be protest marches if he was denied victory through fraud, adding that they would be peaceful.
ZEC insisted that the election has been fought cleanly. “The atmosphere has remained peaceful” said its chairwoman Priscilla Chigumba. “We will not subvert anything. We have not received any major complaint about how the election was conducted.”
One candidate must get more than 50 per cent of the votes, under the constitution, to win the election with a second round run-off scheduled for September if this does not happen.
MDC said one of the reasons it is claiming victory is a late boost given by Robert Mugabe backing Mr Chamisa. The former president, the longest serving head of state in Africa until his overthrow eight months ago, said at a press conference that he would not back Zanu-PF, the party he once led, or Mr Mnangagwa, his former vice-president who replaced him.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies