By Jason Burke in Harare | The Guardian |
Zimbabwean soldiers have joined police in running clashes with hundreds of protesters in Harare who say the country’s presidential election is being rigged.
Police fired water cannon and teargas in an attempt to disperse the protesters, as military helicopters flew overhead. The clashes took place outside the headquarters of the electoral commission, which opposition supporters say is biased.
The protests came amid growing impatience at delays to the release of results in Monday’s historic vote, the first since Robert Mugabe was ousted after four decades in charge.
There were some reports of light injuries. “We support [opposition leader Nelson] Chamisa and we want him to be our president. The electoral commission is not fair. Our election is being stolen,” said a 19-year-old student who was among the protesters.
Large crowds gathered to watch the protests, as much of the centre of the Zimbabwean capital was shut down during the afternoon. Soldiers appeared on the streets after initial clashes between police and protesters, jumping out of several armoured vehicles.
Hundreds of opposition supporters had gathered earlier on Wednesday chanting slogans, accusing election officials of bias, and alleging that the powerful army had taken charge of government.
Election monitors in Zimbabwe earlier called for votes in Monday’s presidential elections to be counted in an open and timely way, as the opposition steps up complaints that it would be denied victory by fraud.
Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party has already won the majority of seats in parliament after sweeping rural constituencies by significant margins, official results show.
The parliamentary outcome does not necessarily indicate voters’ choice of president. The result in the presidential vote – contested by Zanu-PF president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – is due by 4 August, but expected sooner.
Tensions are rising in the former British colony. Monitors warned earlier this week of possible violence if the results are contested.
Elmar Brok, the head of the first EU monitors to be allowed into Zimbabwefor 16 years, said the elections were a critical test of the country’s ability to reform.
Brok praised an “opening up of political space” but said the government had failed to ensure a level playing field, accusing Zimbabwe’s election commission (ZEC) of being one-sided.
He called on the ZEC to make detailed results public to ensure the credibility of the election given earlier shortcomings. Other monitors also expressed concerns as the count went into a third day.
“Election day is only a snapshot of a long electoral process,” said the US congresswoman Karen Bass, one of the monitors deployed jointly by the US International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute.
“It is vital to see the electoral process to its conclusion, and it is still too early to make an assessment on the nature of these elections.”
The latest results announced by the ZEC showed Zanu-PF had won a two-thirds majority in the 210-seat lower house, which would allow it to change the constitution at will.
Chamisa’s MDC won 60 seats. Analysts blamed divisions within the opposition for the low tally.
Chamisa said in a tweet on Wednesday morning that the ZEC “seeks to release results to buy time & reverse the people’s presidential election victory”.
He added: “The strategy is meant to prepare [Zimbabwe] mentally to accept fake presidential results. We’ve more votes than ED [Mnangagwa]. We won the popular vote & will defend it!”
The election pitted Chamisa, 40, a lawyer and pastor whose only previous experience of power was a stint as a minister in a coalition government several years ago, against Mnangagwa, 75, a longtime Mugabe aide and head of Zanu-PF.
Chamisa said on Tuesday that he was “winning resoundingly”, a claim repeated by senior officials over the course of the day.
The interior minister, Obert Mpofu, said the government was concerned by “high levels of incitement to violence … by certain individuals and some political leaders who have declared themselves winners”.
If no candidate wins more than half of the votes in the presidential election, there will be a runoff in five weeks. Negotiations to form a coalition government are another possibility.
The two presidential candidates represent dramatically different ideologies and political styles, as well as generations. Pre-election opinion polls gave Mnangagwa, a dour former spy chief known as “the Crocodile” for his reputation for ruthless cunning, a slim lead over Chamisa, a brilliant if sometimes wayward orator.
Support for Zanu-PF has historically been deepest in rural areas, particularly the party’s Mashonaland heartland, where more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s 17 million people live.
The campaign has been free of the systematic violence that marred previous polls, but the MDC has repeatedly claimed it was hindered by a flawed electoral roll, ballot paper malpractice, voter intimidation and handouts to voters from the ruling party. Many of its complaints have now been backed by monitors.
Zimbabwe’s rulers know, however, that a fraudulent election would block the country’s reintegration into the international community and deny it the huge bailout package needed to avoid economic meltdown.
Almost four decades of rule by Mugabe has left Zimbabwe with a shattered economy, soaring unemployment and crumbling infrastructure.
Supporters said the president had won “a landslide victory”.
“The MDC are just extremely bad losers,” said Bright Matonga, a businessman and former Zanu-PF minister.