Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change has rejected the results of the presidential election. Nelson Chamisa's party's challenge is expected to play out either in the courts or in the streets.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa on election day at Sherwood Park Primary School in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe. July 30, 2018.
Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa on election day at Sherwood Park Primary School in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe. July 30, 2018. (Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters)

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Friday that he was "humbled" to have won the country's landmark election, hailing it as a "new beginning" after the ousting of autocrat Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's electoral commission announced the results, leaving the ruling party in control of the government. ZANU PF's Mnangagwa received 50.8 percent of the vote while main opposition challenger Nelson Chamisa received 44.3 percent.

The opposition is almost certain to challenge the results in the courts or in the streets as it alleged vote-rigging and vowed to hold peaceful protests to reject any vote they see as flawed.

Results rejected

Shortly before the election commission's announcement, Morgen Komichi, the chief agent for Chamisa's opposition alliance, took the stage and said his party "totally rejects" the results and said he had not signed the election results. Police escorted him from the room.

Later Komichi said the elections were "fraudulent" and "everything has been done illegally." He said he had refused an electoral commission request to sign papers certifying Mnangagwa's win.

"We're not part of it," said Komichi, adding that the opposition would be challenging the election in the courts.

Commission chair Priscilla Chigumba urged the country to "move on" with the hopeful spirit of election day and beyond the "blemishes" of Wednesday's chaos: "May God bless this nation and its people."

At the centre where the election results were announced, Charity Manyeruke, who teaches political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said she was delighted.

"There is continuity, stability," Manyeruke said. "Zimbabwe is poised for nation-building."

On Thursday, the streets of Zimbabwe's capital were unusually quiet before the commission announced the first results of Monday's presidential election.

Soldiers circulated in Harare earlier in the day telling vendors and others to clear the city centre. 

Chilly memories of Mugabe rule

While election day was peaceful in a break from the past, deadly violence on Wednesday against people protesting alleged vote-rigging reminded many Zimbabweans of the decades of military-backed repression under Mugabe. The military used gunfire to disperse protests over alleged vote-rigging.

Western election observers who were banned in previous votes have expressed concern at the military's "excessive" force in the capital Harare. Their assessments of the election are crucial to the lifting of international sanctions on a country whose economy collapsed years ago.

The death toll in Wednesday's violence in Harare rose to six, with 14 injured, police said, and 18 people were arrested at the offices of the main opposition party amid tensions over a vote that was supposed to restore trust in Zimbabwe after decades of Mugabe's rule.

While Mnangagwa and the ruling party accused the opposition of inciting the violence, the opposition, human rights activists and international election observers condemned the "excessive" force used against protesters and appealed to all sides to exercise restraint.

Police raided the headquarters of Chamisa's Movement for Democratic Change party while a lawyers' group said Chamisa was being investigated for allegedly inciting violence.

He and several others are suspected of the crimes of "possession of dangerous weapons" and "public violence," according to a copy of a search warrant.

Chamisa, however, said police seized computers and were looking for what he called evidence that his party had gathered of vote-rigging by Mnangagwa's party. The evidence already had been moved to a "safe house," he said.

A Mugabe confidante

Mnangagwa called for an "independent investigation" into Wednesday's violence, saying those responsible "should be identified and brought to justice."

Mnangagwa was a long-time Mugabe confidante before his firing in November led his allies in the military to step in and push Mugabe to resign after 37 years in power. 

It was his battle to secure the top job ahead of Mugabe's wife Grace that triggered the crisis that finally toppled the long-ruling autocrat. When Mnangagwa, 75, was dismissed as vice president by Mugabe, it looked like he lost out to the first lady.

In fear for his life, he made a dramatic escape across the border to Mozambique.

His son, who was with him, described Mnangagwa sitting at a bus stop wearing a dusty suit and tattered shoes after a nighttime mountain trek into Mozambique. He had no belongings except a briefcase full of dollars.

But the situation turned on its head within weeks when the military chiefs launched a brief takeover and Mnangagwa emerged as their chosen successor.

With the nation still reeling from Mugabe's downfall, Mnangagwa made a triumphant return home and was sworn in as president after lawmakers in the ruling ZANU PF party swung behind him. Thousands of jubilant Zimbabweans celebrated in the streets of Harare, greeting the military with selfies and cheers.

"I never thought he whom I have nurtured, brought into government ... that one day he would turn against me," said a mournful Mugabe afterwards.

Since taking office, the 75-year-old Mnangagwa has tried to recast himself as a voice of reform, declaring that Zimbabwe was "open for business" and inviting long-banned Western election observers to observe Monday's vote, which he pledged would be free and fair.

A credible election is crucial for the lifting of international sanctions and for the badly needed foreign investment to help Zimbabwe's long-collapsed economy revive. Mnangagwa himself remains under US sanctions.

While Monday's election has been widely judged as peaceful with a high turnout, the deadly violence that erupted on Wednesday brought back chilly memories of decades of repression under Mugabe.

It was a reminder, as opposition leader Chamisa declared Thursday, that "'We have removed Mugabe but not Mugabe-ism."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies