HARARE — Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa narrowly beat out his opponent, Nelson Chamisa, in Zimbabwe’s historic election — its first without ex-president Robert Mugabe on the ballot — according to the country’s electoral commission.
In the final tally, Mnangagwa captured just 300,000 more votes than Chamisa, depending largely on rural support to tip the scales.
The final results of Monday’s elections were delivered one day after about 4,000 supporters of Chamisa’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), clashed violently with police and the military during a demonstration over the delay. At least six people were killed, 14 injured, and 26 arrested as authorities fired live bullets, shot at protesters from water tanks, and sprayed tear gas throughout the downtown area of Harare.
Mnangagwa, who became president last November after leading a military takeover of Zimbabwe that effectively forced Mugabe out of office, will now extend his eight months in office and serve a full five-year term. Although a total of 23 candidates ran for president in this election, Mnangagwa’s main rival has always been Chamisa.
The 40-year-old MDC leader and his campaign leaders have taken to social media and the press this week insisting that he had won the presidential election, and accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and Mnangagwa’s party, the ZANU-PF, of rigging the vote. In a press conference held just hours before the announcements began, Chamisa doubled down on his claim that his party had beaten Mnangagwa’s. Though he’s said the MDC has seen the results to back up his argument, they have not posted them anywhere.
“We respect ZEC. We respect the law. But we are being abused for respecting the law. But we are being abused for respecting the law,” Chamisa said to a crowd of reporters Thursday evening. “We know that we defeated Mnangagwa.”
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission started sharing the official vote count at 10 p.m. local time, three days after the polls closed. The commission technically had until Aug. 4 to announce the final election results, but had said throughout the week that there was a chance they’d do so earlier.
The anticipation over election results hung heavy in the air in Harare. After Election Day, the city essentially slowed to a standstill, and on Thursday morning, the military was seen patrolling the streets downtown, telling everyone from shopkeepers to protesters to behave.
Tension mounted inside the announcement room on Thursday night as local and foreign media quickly crunched numbers with each provincial result, trying to predict who the winner would be. With 9 of the 10 provinces’ tallies released, the Electoral Commission took an hour-long break, leaving the assembled journalists trying to determine just what number of votes Chamisa would need to overtake the Mnangagwa's narrow lead. Before the final province’s results were read out, police escorted members of the MDC delegation from the venue.
Many Zimbabweans have pointed out that Mnangagwa’s party, the Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party has historically had its strongest support from the countryside, while the strongholds for the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, tend to be concentrated in more urban areas like Harare and Bulawayo, the nation’s second largest city.
Others noted, however, that the MDC’s margins of victory in big cities were not shown to be as wide as expected.