Shadow hangs over Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe victory

CAPE TOWN — You’d think a former military leader with enough strategic nous to pull off a bloodless coup and then win or rig an election would issue ironclad orders to the army and police not to use live ammunition on protestors. Then again, perhaps he has yet to secure that kind of authority. There’s a surfeit of evidence that he’s hyper-aware of the importance of global perceptions about Zimbabwe. So, the deaths of six opposition protestors – reportedly shot in the back while fleeing army troops immediately after the announcement of Zanu-PF’s alleged ballot box victory, is going to seriously hurt his country’s chances of getting out of the rusted and rotten economic starting blocks. Why wouldn’t the world see it as President Mnangagwa resorting to Matebeleland-type tactics? Perhaps aptly named “The Crocodile” (remember PW Botha’s moniker?), Mnangagwa has sufficient work cut out without such an inauspicious start. Sealing off the opposition HQ and searching for weapons post-election is also eloquent. Unlike Mugabe who like our own historic “Groot Krokodil,” told the world to go and stuff itself and not interfere with so-called self-determination, the now “democratically-elected” president is on a global charm offensive. His backyard however needs some serious cleaning up before he’s taken seriously. – Chris Bateman

By Godfrey Marawanyika, Mike Cohen and Brian Latham

(Bloomberg) – Emmerson Mnangagwa won Zimbabwe’s presidential election, a victory overshadowed by deadly protests, opposition allegations of rigging and criticism by observers that the contest was flawed.

The controversy surrounding the vote may undermine efforts to reunify the southern African nation and rebuild an economy battered by almost two decades of misrule under Robert Mugabe, who was forced to quit in November. The country also risks a repeat of unrest that claimed six lives on Wednesday, when soldiers fired live rounds at fleeing demonstrators.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Mnangagwa, leader of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, secured 50.8 percent of the vote, while his main rival Nelson Chamisa, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change, won 44.3 percent, Priscilla Chigumba, a judge who chairs the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, told reporters Friday in the capital, Harare. Results released Wednesday showed Zanu-PF winning almost 70 percent of the legislative vote.

“I am humbled to be elected president,” Mnangagwa said in a statement on Twitter. “Though we have been divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams.”

Chamisa insisted he and his party were the real victors.

“We have won the popular vote,” he said on Twitter. “No amount of manipulation will alter your will.”

The post-election violence will erode the international goodwill toward Zimbabwe since Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe as president and pledged to hold credible elections, according to Christopher McKee, chief executive officer of New York-based risk advisory firm PRS Group.

“It matters little whether this heavy-handed response came on Mnangagwa’s orders,” McKee said in emailed comments. “Evidence that the president lacks the authority to control the security forces will be just as damning in terms of the impact on Zimbabwe’s international rehabilitation. Risks related to military involvement in politics and the quality and responsiveness of political institutions will remain a concern in Zimbabwe.”

Zanu-PF’s election pledges include an undertaking to respect property rights and maintain a stable and predictable business environment, while also ensuring the retail industry is reserved for black Zimbabweans and forcing mineral producers to process part of their output within the country to create jobs. It’s targeting $5 billion a year in foreign direct investment, up from the $289 million the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development says the country received last year.

Mnangagwa has moved swiftly to restore calm and called for an independent investigation into the violence. He said he’d held talks with Chamisa on ways to defuse the tension, offered condolences to the victims’ families and described the deaths as a tragedy.

‘Move forward’

“We believe in transparency and accountability, and those responsible should be identified and brought to justice,” Mnangagwa said. “The most important thing for us now is to move beyond yesterday’s tragic events and to move forward together.”

Nelson Chamisa, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), arrives to cast his vote at a polling station in the Kuwadzana township, in Harare, on July 30, 2018 Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The police didn’t take a similarly conciliatory approach – they sealed off the opposition’s headquarters in Harare after obtaining a search warrant to look for grenades, firearms, ammunition, computers and stones, and arrested 18 people. They also secured warrants to search Chamisa’s residence and those of several other opposition leaders.

Chamisa told reporters on Thursday that he didn’t know why the police were looking for him.

“We condemn the use of the army on civilians,” he said. “Yesterday’s incident was just one of many. Our people have been at the receiving end for the last 18 years.”

System manipulated

Chamisa also alleged that the electoral commission’s computer systems were open to manipulation and more people had cast ballots in some areas than appeared on the voters’ roll. He’d previously complained that controls over ballot papers were inadequate and that the electoral commission was biased in favour of the ruling party.

“The results announced, we reject them because they haven’t been verified by our chief election agent,” Morgen Komichi, the MDC’s chairman, told reporters shortly before Mnangagwa was declared president. “These results are not a true reflection of the will of the people.”

The integrity of the election was also found lacking by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a local association of 34 civil rights and religious organisations that deployed about 6,500 election observers. It said the ruling party used state resources to campaign and food aid to entice people to vote for it and enjoyed more favourable media coverage. It also said the final voters’ roll was released too late to analyse it.

Western observers were equally critical, with European Union monitors saying there wasn’t a “level playing field” in the election. The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute from the US said that improvements in the political environment probably weren’t enough to convince voters that they could oppose the ruling party without fear of violence or other retribution.

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