Zimbabwe’s government has warned candidates could be jailed for prematurely announcing election results after Nelson Chamisa’s opposition MDC Alliance claimed to have won the general election and suggested it would call supporters on to the streets if the official result favoured Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president.
Mr Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and preacher, said he was “winning resoundingly” as counting got under way and called on the country’s electoral commission to “perform their constitutional duty to officially announce the people’s election results”.
But Zimbabwe’s electoral authorities had announced the results from just seven parliamentary constituencies by Tuesday evening, and made no comment on the outcome of the presidential race.
Zimbabwean law forbids anyone other than the electoral commission from announcing results.
“As a government we have noted with concern the actions and conduct of some political party leaders… who are openly declaring that they will announce results irrespective of provisions of the law,” said Obert Mpofu, the home affairs minister, at a media briefing in Harare.
“I am sure no one wants to provoke the wrath of the law and risk being sent to jail.” Electoral officials and the country’s main observer organisation reported an unprecedented 80 per cent turnout in Zimbabwe’s first presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections since Robert Mugabe was ousted in a military coup in November. Zimbabwean law says official results must be released within five days of the poll.
If no candidate in the presidential race wins more than 50 per cent of the vote there will be a run-off on Sept 8.
Justice Priscilla Chigumba, chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), said Tuesday evening that Zanu PF had won seven seats in the 210-member parliament and the MDC Alliance one.
She said the presidential result would not be released until returns from more than 10,000 polling station had been collated. But the delay drew allegations of fraud from the MDC, which insisted it already had proof from polling station observers that it had won the election and accused officials of delaying publication in order to falsify the vote.
Zimbabweans check the results posted outside a polling station in Bulawayo
Zimbabweans check the results posted outside a polling station in Bulawayo Credit: Jerome Delay/ AP
“We have been pushing ZEC to announce the results. The results are posted outside of polling stations. We have collected those results,” said Tendai Biti, a former MDC finance minister who ousted the Zanu PF incumbent in Harare East on Monday.
Asked whether the opposition would attempt to challenge the result with peaceful protests, he said: “Constitutionally it is the right of every Zimbabwean to come out on to the streets.”
The election commission said it had seen no evidence of cheating and that it was operating strictly within the law.
A senior Zanu PF member who spoke on condition of anonymity said Mr Mnangagwa had clearly secured the presidency and that the ruling party would maintain a parliamentary majority.
But he conceded that Mr Chamisa appeared to have done “better than we had hoped” and that it was unclear whether Zanu PF would achieve its goal of a two-thirds majority, which would allow it to amend the constitution.
Emmerson Mnangagwa attends a rally in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 28, 2018
Emmerson Mnangagwa attends a rally in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 28, 2018 Credit: Barcroft Images
There were no disturbances reported in Harare last night. However, a large crowd of MDC supporters gathered outside the opposition headquarters to celebrate “victory” while riot police equipped with water cannons were seen patrolling in city centre.
Meanwhile, Mr Biti accused Gen Constantino Chiwenga, the vice president and mastermind of the coup that ousted Mr Mugabe, of ordering the assassination of Mr Chamisa and himself. George Charamba, the spokesman for Mr Mnangagwa, called the allegation “bizarre.”
The vote has been seen as a key test of Mr Mnangagwa’s willingness to break with the violence and corruption of Mr Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
Foreign diplomats have told the Zimbabwean government that it may be readmitted to the Commonwealth and could see relief from US sanctions that currently prevent IMF loans if the election passes off peacefully and without cheating.
However, whoever wins the vote will inherit a crisis-ridden economy with an unemployment rate of up to 90 per cent and a critical shortage of hard currency.