It was the sheer strength of numbers in rural Zimbabwe that carried Emmerson Mnangagwa to the Zimbabwean presidency following results announced shortly before 1am on Friday.
Mnangagwa‚ nicknamed ‘The Crocodile’‚ was confirmed by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) as the winner of the vote‚ which took place on Monday.
At a press briefing that started shortly after 10pm‚ Priscilla Chigumba‚ the ZEC chair‚ said that the results from one province were still outstanding – but the commission returned at about 12.30am on Friday morning to make the final announcement.
Chigumba announced that Mnangagwa, the incumbent who replaced ousted leader Robert Mugabe last year, received 2,460,463 of the votes across the country. This was 50.8% of the total vote; just enough to avoid a runoff.
His fiercest rival, Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance, came second, with 2,147,436 (or 44.3%) of the total vote.
“I do hereby declare that the votes by [Mnangagwa] are more than half the number cast in the presidential election. [Mnangagwa] is, therefore, duly declared as elected president of the Republic of Zimbabwe with effect from August 3, 2018,” Chigumba said.
The ruling Zanu-PF was also confirmed to have clinched the majority in Parliament.
While the urban centres of Bulawayo and Harare voted overwhelming for Chamisa, he was trounced in rural Zimbabwe, where most of the country’s population lives.
In the two urban centres, Harare and Bulawayo, Chamisa received more than double the support Mnangagwa could muster. In Harare, the capital, Chamisa received 548,880 votes compared to Mnangagwa’s 204,710. In Bulawayo, the second city, Chamisa got 144,107 votes against Mnangagwa’s 60,168 votes.
Chamisa did claim two rural provinces – Manicaland and Matabeleland North – but not by significant enough margins.
In Manicaland, the MDC Alliance leader got just around 3,500 votes (296,429) more than Mnangagwa (292,938). Even though the victory in Matabeleland North was by a bigger margin – Chamisa got 137,611 votes to Mnangagwa’s 111,453 – it wasn’t enough.
In contrast, The Crocodile had often decisive victories – with ZEC counts showing that he had won in:
Masvingo (Mnangagwa 319,073 votes, Chamisa 171,196 votes);
Mashonaland East (Mnangagwa 334,617 votes, Chamisa 189,024 votes);
Matabeleland South (Mnangagwa 107,008 votes, Chamisa 90,292 votes);
Mashonaland Central (Mnangagwa 366,785 votes, Chamisa 97,097 votes);
Midlands (Mnangagwa 350,754 votes, Chamisa 255,059 votes); and
Mashonaland West (Mnangagwa 312,958 votes, Chamisa 217,732).
Mnangagwa said Friday that he was “humbled” to have won the country’s landmark election, hailing it as a “new beginning”.
“Thank you Zimbabwe! I am humbled to be elected President of the Second Republic of Zimbabwe,” he said in a Twitter message. “Though we may have been divided at the polls, we are united in our dreams. This is a new beginning.”
The MDC Alliance is expected to challenge the results. Before the final announcement, MDC Alliance chairman Morgan Komichi said the results were “fake”, claiming that chief elections had not yet verified the results. Security then escorted him from the stage.
Earlier, Chamisa questioned the independence of the judiciary, saying he was reluctant to go to court to challenge the results, saying this would be “going into the lion’s den”.
The election, the first since the army’s removal of 94-year-old Mugabe, passed off relatively smoothly but its aftermath revealed the deep rifts in Zimbabwean society and the instinctive heavy-handedness of the security forces.
On Wednesday, troops backed by armoured vehicles and a military helicopter were sent in to crush demonstrations by stone-throwing opposition supporters who said Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF party had rigged the elections.
Six people were killed as soldiers, some with their faces obscured by camouflage masks, opened fire with automatic weapons. The following day, soldiers ordered civilians off the streets of the capital, despite calls from foreign governments and international organisations for calm and for political leaders to show restraint.
Wednesday’s crackdown by the army crushed the last vestiges of euphoria that followed its removal of Mugabe in November and fuelled suspicions that the generals who launched the coup remained Zimbabwe’s de facto rulers.
“Deployment of troops reveals the uncomfortable truth that, eight months after Mugabe was ousted, the army remains the pre-eminent political force,” said Piers Pigou, a Zimbabwe expert at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
The election was supposed to confirm the legitimacy of the post-Mugabe government and allow Harare to renew ties with the international community. This in turn would have allowed it to start unlocking the donor funding and investment needed to get its economy — at independence, one of Africa’s most vibrant — back on its feet.
Instead, observers from the Commonwealth, a group of mainly former British colonies that Mnangagwa had hoped to rejoin, did not mince words in condemning the military’s conduct.
“We categorically denounce the excessive use of force against unarmed civilians,” former Ghanaian president John Mahama said on behalf of the Commonwealth. The United Nations and European Union both urged restraint, while Britain, a supporter of the “new” post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence.
China said however it believed the election had generally been orderly.
Mnangagwa offered his condolences to families of the victims of the crackdown and said those responsible would be brought to justice.