Harare — Zimbabwe’s opposition accused the election commission on Tuesday of deliberately delaying results of this week’s vote to favour the ruling party, reporting irregularities in the first poll since the removal of Robert Mugabe in a November coup.
Even though the election passed off peacefully, several water cannon trucks patrolled outside the Harare headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as its supporters danced in the streets. Some local results from parallel parliamentary elections have been declared but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has yet to produce any figures from Monday’s presidential vote.
ZEC chief Priscilla Chigumba said the presidential result may not be ready until Saturday.
Former MDC finance minister Tendai Biti and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), the main domestic election monitor, said one in five polling stations — more than 2,000 in all — had not posted tallies on their doors as required by law. That omission gave room for the ZEC, which the ZESN and the opposition have accused of bias, to manipulate the results in favour of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ruling Zanu-PF, Biti said.
ZESN and other civil society groups were preparing a legal challenge to force the results into the open, Biti said.
ZEC said there was no rigging or cheating in the vote, whose credibility is vital in Zimbabwe’s attempts to emerge from the pariah status and economic decay under Mugabe’s nearly four decades in charge.
However, the election commission did not explain why the polling stations did not post results. The poll is a two-horse race between Mnangagwa, 75, a long-serving security chief who replaced Mugabe, and MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, 40.
Both men have expressed confidence in victory although western diplomats and local observer groups said the race, which saw a turnout of 75%, was too close to call.
"The information from our representatives on the ground is extremely positive!" Mnangagwa wrote on Twitter.
Chamisa had earlier said he was poised for victory, tweeting: "Awaiting ZEC to perform their constitutional duty to officially announce the people’s election results and we are ready to form the next government."
As well as electing a president, Zimbabweans were voting for 210 MPs and more than 9,000 councillors. In the absence of a clear winner, a run-off will be held on September 8.
Election monitor sources said Monday’s vote appeared to have passed without major foul play although they noted some coercion and intimidation of voters in rural areas by Zanu-PF and said the state media was biased towards the ruling party.
Chamisa questioned the independence of the ZEC and said voters were being suppressed in urban areas where he is popular. Zanu-PF has denied any misconduct.
Whatever the outcome, unrest remains possible. If the MDC loses and contests the results there could be street protests. Protracted court battles could also spark violence and delay much-needed economic reforms. Should Mnangagwa lose, many Zimbabweans fear some in the ruling party may not accept the result, particularly given the huge risks some senior cadres and army officers took in removing Mugabe.
Some of the coup organisers are now in government, including Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga. Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF have said they will accept the results, but after a string of questionable elections under Mugabe, many Zimbabweans remain sceptical.
"Those who have the guns have the power. This is Africa," said Gift Machekera.
Several civic groups are collating results from 10,985 polling posts in parallel with ZEC but are not allowed to release them early. A source at one group said it was too early to call a winner but it was looking "very close".
In the capital Harare, an MDC stronghold, results posted outside some polling stations showed Chamisa winning by wide margins, but Mnangagwa was expected to claw back ground in Zanu-PF’s rural heartland. Urban results tend to emerge quicker than those from rural outposts.