HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Hundreds of angry opposition supporters outside Zimbabwe’s electoral commission were met by riot police firing tear gas 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 — crucial for lifting international sanctions on the once-prosperous country.
Zimbabwe’s electoral commission said it would say “sometime tomorrow” when it can start announcing the results of the race pitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, even though it said most of the results “are here with us.” Agents for all 23 candidates have to verify them first, it said.
The ruling ZANU-PF party won a majority of seats in Parliament, the electoral commission said.
The EU observer mission said “a truly level playing field was not achieved” in the election, 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 longer it lasts, the more the issue of lack of credibility arises,” lead EU observer Elmar Brok said. Both the EU and U.S. observer missions urged the release of the presidential results as soon as possible, with the lead observer for the U.S. team, former Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, warning that “the more the presidential vote is delayed, the more it calls into question the population’s confidence in the election process.”
The opposition has alleged irregularities, saying voting results were not posted outside one-fifth of polling stations as required by law.
Opposition supporters in the capital, Harare, threw rocks and denounced the government, tearing down a billboard with an image of Mnangagwa and his campaign slogan: “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”
The riot police backed by armored vehicles with water cannon did not immediately move in to break up the demonstration.
Mnangagwa’s government has accused Chamisa and his supporters of inciting “violence” by already declaring he had won. “Let me also warn such individuals and groups that no one is above the law,” Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said.
The possibility of violent confrontation was an unnerving reminder of the tensions that pervade this southern African nation, debilitated by Mugabe’s long and repressive 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 election 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 claimed victory based on results supporters said they collected from agents in the field.
“We won the popular vote & will defend it!” Chamisa tweeted.
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.