Elections that were supposed to mark peace and change in Zimbabwe, have instead brought the country an outburst of violence, claims of fraud and corruption, and further political unrest.
On July 30th, 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s 5 million registered voters turned out to vote for their next president, as well as for seats in parliament. The vote was the first in the country since former president Robert Mugabe was voted out in November, 2017 after 37 years in power. Mugabe, who was part of the Zanu PF party, helped Zimbabwe become independent from the UK, but has since been criticized for causing large inflation in the country and for not allowing international observers to be present during past political elections.
The 2018 presidential vote was to be a new start for the country, with international observers invited back for the first time. But the close win of Mugabe’s Zanu PF successor Emmerson Mnangagwa — who has held office in Mugabe’s absence — has motivated a challenge by the opposition.
On August 3rd, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced that Mnangagwa had won the presidency with 50.8 percent (2,460,463) of the vote, with his opponent from the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC Alliance) Nelson Chamisa receiving 44.3 percent (2,147,436). Chamisa responded to the announcement, calling it “a black day for democracy,” saying: “Mr. Mnangagwa did not win the election in this country…we won this election emphatically.”
Before the official election result announcement by the ZEC, protestors gathered in the country’s capital Harare demanding to know why the official poll numbers had not yet been released, and calling the government — and thus Mnangagwa and the Zanu PF party — corrupt. What started as a peaceful protest turned to violence when riot police were called and began tear gassing protestors (mainly MDC Alliance supporters). At least 6 people were killed as the violence continued, with military police reportedly shooting into crowds and driving around tank-like military vehicles. Zanu PF has claimed that protests caused massive damage to buildings in the capital and are the initial cause of the violence.
As a result of the violence, Tendai Biti, a member of the MDC Alliance, has been charged with “inciting violence,” and on Thursday, August 9th, was denied asylum and released on $5,000 bail. Following Biti’s release, Mnangagwa tweeted: “I repeat – no one is above the law. Thus due to the serious nature of the allegations of incitement, due process will continue.” He continued, “I call on all parties to immediately cease from all forms of incitement to violence, and to conduct all activities solely within the framework of the law.”
The inauguration of Mnangagwa, originally scheduled for Sunday, August 12th, has as of August 10th, been delayed. On Friday, the MDC Alliance filed their official challenge of the election results, asking the Constitutional Court to name Chamisa the proper winner, or to hold “another election which complies with the dictates of the law.” The Court has 14 days to make a decision.