HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted a press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results.
Chamisa had already denounced Mnangagwa’s win as “fake” and fraudulent, and earlier Thursday police issued a warrant for Chamisa’s arrest.
Zimbabwe’s closely-watched elections began with Monday’s peaceful vote but turned deadly 48 hours later when the military fired on protesters and six people were killed.
Friday morning a truckload of police, with shields and batons, dispersed 100 local and international press gathered to hear Chamisa but did not say why they were taking such action.
The police action heightened the apprehension that remained in Harare after the army rolled in with tanks on Wednesday to disperse rock-throwing demonstrators who denounced Mnangagwa and alleged vote-rigging in the country’s first vote after the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe.
The military were not visible on Harare’s streets on Friday. Water cannons and police remained present, however, at the headquarters of the main opposition party, a day after authorities raided it and made 18 arrests.
Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former enforcer and confidante, said he was “humbled” by the victory and in a Twitter post urged Zimbabweans to stay peaceful.
The opposition said it will challenge in court the results of the election, which Mnangagwa won with just over 50 percent of the vote.
Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who received more than 44 percent of the vote, said on Twitter that “unverified fake results” had been announced by the electoral commission. The commission “must release proper & verified results endorsed by parties,” he tweeted. “The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay & values deficit is baffling.”
In a brief moment of drama shortly before the commission announced the winner in Friday’s early hours, two agents for Chamisa’s Movement for Democratic Change party took the stage and told waiting journalists that they “totally reject” the results and said they had not signed them as required, in protest. Police escorted them from the room.
The week’s events left many Zimbabweans with a sense of unease and questions about how different Mnangagwa is from his predecessor Mugabe, who stepped down in November under military pressure amid a ruling party feud after 37 years in power.
The 75-year-old Mnangagwa has tried to recast himself as a voice of change, declaring that the once-prosperous Zimbabwe is “open for business” and inviting the Western election observers who for years had been banned by Mugabe.
If this election is judged credible, it will be a big step toward the lifting of international sanctions on this southern African nation whose economy has long collapsed and whose reputation has suffered after years of repression of the opposition and allegedly rigged votes.
So far international observers have issued mixed reviews, calling Monday’s election peaceful and a break from the past but expressing grave concern about the military’s “excessive” use of force. They criticized the delay in releasing the results of the presidential vote, saying it raised concerns about possible manipulation.
Anxious Zimbabweans waited to see what would happen next. In Kuwadzana, a poor suburb outside the capital where groups of youths overnight sang and chanted MDC slogans before results were announced, it was silent.
One street vendor in the capital, Roy Mukwena, said Mnangagwa “won by force. No, I’m not happy, just because these elections were not free and fair.”
Some, however, were content to move on and deal with the new leader.
“Yeah, I think he’s the right man. Because he has been there for quite some time and he knows where the weaknesses are,” said a 29-year-old clerk who gave his name only as Eddy. “He has the experience from … previous government. So he knows how to maneuver all the problems we have. I just hope he will do well.”