Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa was re-elected for a second and final five-year term late Saturday in results announced much earlier than expected following another troubled vote in the southern African country with a history of violent and disputed elections.
An opposition party spokesperson said within minutes of Mnangagwa being declared the winner that they would reject the results as “hastily assembled without proper verification.”
Mnangagwa's victory meant the ZANU-PF party retained the governmental leadership it has held for all 43 years of Zimbabwe's history since the nation was re-named following independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Zimbabwe has had just two leaders in that time, long-ruling autocrat Robert Mugabe and Mnangagwa.
The 80-year-old Mnangagwa, who has the nickname “the crocodile” from his days as a guerrilla fighter, won 52.6% of the votes in the midweek election, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said in a late-night announcement in the capital, Harare. The 45-year-old main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, got 44%, the commission said.
The results were released around 11.30 p.m., about 48 hours after polls closed.
They likely will be closely scrutinized after international election observers raised questions over the environment in the buildup to the vote and pointed to an atmosphere of intimidation against Chamisa’s supporters.
The observers said they had specific concerns over a ruling party affiliate organization called Forever Associates of Zimbabwe that they said set up tables at polling stations and took details of people walking into voting booths. The head of the African Union mission, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, said the FAZ activities should be declared “criminal offenses.”
Dzens of local vote monitors also were arrested and taken to court on allegations of subversion that government critics said were trumped-up charges.
And there were problems with the actual vote.
The election had been due to be held on just Wednesday, but voting was extended to Thursday after delays with the printing of ballot papers. Results of the presidential election came a surprising two days after voting closed when the final figures were only expected on Monday or even Tuesday considering the election ran over by a day.
“We reject any results hastily assembled without proper verification,” said Promise Mkwananzi, a spokesperson for Chamisa's Citizens Coalition for Change Party. “We will advise citizens on the next steps as the situation develops.”
The result will now extend ZANU-PF''s rule to nearly a half century with Mnangagwa's victory. ZANU-PF also retained its parliamentary majority in the election. Mnangagwa won just over 2.3 million of the 4.4 million votes cast. Chamisa received 1.9 million, the electoral commission said.
“This is a very happy occasion indeed,” said Ziyambi Ziyambi, an election agent for Mnangagwa and a Cabinet minister. “Zimbabweans have shown confidence in our president and ZANU-PF.”
Mnangagwa was a vice president under Mugabe before replacing his former ally after a coup in 2017. Mnangagwa then won a disputed election by a razor-thin margin against Chamisa in 2018, a result that caused unrest and deaths on the streets.
Ahead of Saturday's announcement of the 2023 results, dozens of armed police with water cannons guarded the national results center. It was the scene of deadly violence after the previous election five years ago, when soldiers killed six people during protests over delays in announcing presidential election results.
Voting this time ran over into Thursday after delays in distributing ballot papers in the capital, Harare, and other urban areas prompted Mnangagwa to extend the election by a day. Voters slept outside polling stations in urban areas that are opposition strongholds to cast their ballots.
Before the election, 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 by ruling party supporters.
International rights groups said there was a crackdown on opposition officials and supporters by ZANU-PF. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch alleged Mnangagwa’s administration used the police and the courts to silence dissent amid rising tensions due to a currency crisis, a sharp hike in food prices, a weakening public health system and inadequate numbers of formal jobs.
Zimbabwe is renowned for having one of the world's worst economic meltdowns, when hyperinflation in 2007-2009 led to the country abandoning its currency.
Many people in the country of 15 million are sure to view the result with suspicion, although the opposition CCC party didn't immediately say what its next move would be.
Streets in Harare that would normally be bustling with late-night vendors were empty as people were digesting the results.
“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.”