Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF has secured a parliamentary majority in the country’s first election without Robert Mugabe, raising tensions as supporters from both sides await the results of a closely fought presidential race.
By early Wednesday the ruling party led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa had won 109 out of 210 seats, against 41 for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the Zimbabwean election commission said.
The results are a blow to the MDC’s leader, Nelson Chamisa. His party has already claimed victory in the presidential contest against Mr Mnangagwa, who was installed by a military coup that overthrew Mr Mugabe from almost four decades in power last year.
Stephen Chan, professor at Soas, University of London, said the parliamentary results suggested Mr Mnangagwa was cruising to a comfortable victory, based largely on Zanu-PF’s strong rural vote. Although there has been great enthusiasm for Mr Chamisa in the cities, in the countryside, where two-thirds of the population live, Zanu-PF remained a formidable force, analysts said.
A critical question will be whether the vote was deemed free and fair.
EU observers said that an “un-level playing field, intimidation of voters and lack of trust in the process undermined the pre-election environment” despite the largely peaceful vote on the day. The election commission at times appeared one-sided, said Elmar Brok, the head of the EU team.
Mr Chan said the release of parliamentary election results by the election commission was part of a “softening up exercise” to get opposition supporters used to the idea of a Zanu-PF victory.
“The delay is for massaging public reaction,” he said, referring to what some have complained was foot-dragging over releasing results. “They want to pull this off without violence.”
On Tuesday, Tendai Biti, a senior MDC figure, accused authorities of a “deliberate delay” in announcing what he said was the victory of Mr Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor.
Zanu-PF has accused the opposition of deliberately spreading misinformation about its supposed victory as a tactic to confuse the electorate.
Many rank-and-file MDC supporters are convinced Mr Chamisa can only have lost if the election was rigged, with suspicions being aroused by the long wait for the presidential result.
“Our victory is certain . . . [the election commission] is going to rig the election, it’s part of Zanu-PF,” said Samson Munetsi, a 35-year-old plumber and MDC voter.
Civil society groups have raised questions about the impartiality of the election commission, though few have accused it of outright rigging.
The ruling party won large majorities for parliamentary seats in rural areas that have long been its stronghold — areas where civil society organisations have raised concerns about voter intimidation and vote-buying before Monday’s otherwise largely peaceful vote.
In many instances, according to non-governmental organisations monitoring the vote, Zanu-PF had used partisan distribution of food, fertiliser and seeds, as well as pressure from traditional chiefs to sway voters.
About 50 seats are still to be declared but Zanu-PF is within striking distance of a two-thirds majority that would allow it to change Zimbabwe’s constitution.
People close to Mr Mnangagwa have said he is “winning by a mile”. One said that Mr Chamisa was following the “Raila playbook,” a reference to Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate in last year’s disputed election in Kenya who refused to accept his defeat, leading to protests by his supporters.