HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Angry opposition supporters gathered outside Zimbabwe’s electoral commission and were met by riot police on Wednesday as the country awaited the results of Monday’s presidential election, the first after the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe.
The European Union election observer mission expressed “serious concerns” as Western and other observers gave their first assessments of whether the vote, while peaceful, was free and fair — critical to lifting international sanctions on the once-prosperous country.
The ruling ZANU-PF party won a majority of seats in Parliament, the electoral commission announced.
The commission has said it would announce the results of the presidential race, pitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, only after all the votes have come in from across the country.
The EU observer mission said “a truly level playing field was not achieved,” pointing out the “misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behavior by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media.” It said the election was largely peaceful in a break from the past but wondered why presidential votes were counted first but were being announced last.
The opposition has alleged irregularities, saying voting results were not posted outside one-fifth of polling stations as required by law.
Mnangagwa’s government, meanwhile, has accused Chamisa and his supporters of inciting “violence” by already declaring he had won the election.
“Let me also warn such individuals and groups that no one is above the law,” Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said. Security forces “will remain on high alert and continue to monitor the security situation.”
The possibility of confrontation was an unnerving reminder of the tensions that pervade this southern African nation, debilitated by Mugabe’s long rule. The 94-year-old former leader had been in power since independence from white minority rule in 1980 until he was forced to resign in November after the military and ruling party turned on him.
Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who fell out with Mugabe and then took over from him, has said his showing in the presidential polls was “extremely positive” while urging people to wait for official results.
Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, has gone further, saying his own count shows that he won the election and that he’s ready to form the next government.
“We won the popular vote & will defend it!” Chamisa tweeted Wednesday.
Zimbabweans desperately hope the peaceful vote will lift them out of economic and political stagnation after decades of Mugabe’s rule, but the country is haunted by a history of electoral violence and manipulation that means trust is scarce.
While the electoral commission has five days from the end of voting to release the final tally, the national mood was growing anxious partly because unofficial results are already swirling on social media.
The opposition’s mood had dampened from Tuesday, when dozens of supporters gathered at their headquarters and celebrated in the belief that they had won the presidential election based on results they said they collected from agents in the field. As they danced to music blasting from speakers set up on a truck, police with water cannon circulated nearby.
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