Zimbabwe’s highest court upheld the slim victory of President Emmerson Mnangagwa in last month’s historic election, dismissing the opposition’s legal challenge to official results in a blow to millions of Zimbabweans who voted to end nearly four decades of rule under the party of former leader Robert Mugabe.
On Friday, the nine judges on the bench of the Constitutional Court in Harare unanimously ruled that opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change did not provide enough evidence to support his claim that he won the popular vote and election results were rigged in favor of Mnangagwa.
“The court finds the applicant has failed to place before it clear, direct, sufficient and credible evidence that the irregularities that he alleges marred the election process materially existed,” said Chief Justice Luke Malaba on Friday.
“It is not for the court to decide elections. … It is the duty of the court to strive in the public interest to sustain that which the people have expressed their will in,” he said, before declaring Mnangagwa the winner of the July 30 election.
Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe was ousted in November, won the election with 50.6% of the vote to Chamisa’s 44.3%. He was expected to be inaugurated within 48 hours.
He and the ruling ZANU-PF party now face the onerous task of governing a deeply divided nation — and convincing people inside and outside Zimbabwe that the same party that has been in power since 1980 can improve on the dismal economic and human rights records of the Mugabe era.
“Nelson Chamisa, my door is open and my arms are outstretched, we are one nation, and we must put our nation first,” Mnangagwa said in a statement on Twitter after the ruling. “Let us all now put our differences behind us. It is time to move forward together.”
On Friday, Chamisa tweeted to his supporters. “I hear your cries & feel your pain,” he said. “I know you feel cheated, but take heart — your victory is not lost. Your will is sacred & we’ll listen to you on the path of peace & course of action to be taken to rescue our beautiful Zimbabwe from the jaws of poverty, corruption & dishonesty.”
For months, Zimbabweans have listened to similar campaign promises by both leaders: that they would work to bring international investment back to the country, solve the debilitating cash shortage, improve tired infrastructure and deliver much-needed jobs.
An unprecedented number of voters turned out to cast their ballots in last month’s election. Though voting day was mostly peaceful, two days later, the army opened fire on an opposition demonstration and bystanders in Harare, the capital, killing six people and injuring many more.
In the days that followed, opposition leaders and human rights groups said police and the military continued to crack down on opposition supporters around the country, arresting, harassing and beating people up in the middle of the night.
Chamisa said he was confident he had won the popular vote soon after the polls closed. On Aug. 10, he lodged his challenge with the courts, alleging multiple irregularities with the electoral process, including the recording of votes from “ghost” polling stations as well as from polling stations that recorded more votes than registered voters.
“It’s like a kid was playing with the figures,” said Thabani Mpofu, a lawyer who represented Chamisa in court this week. “That, with respect, is not how an election is conducted.”
The court, however, ultimately disagreed, saying Chamisa not only failed to present sufficient evidence, but did not use the legal tools at his disposal to dispute the vote, including seeking an immediate recount and demanding to have the ballot boxes unsealed.
“The lawmakers in their wisdom created an avenue for the applicant to ensure he had all the evidence necessary to prove his case if he so wished to challenge the result,” Malaba said. “Time was on his side to obtain such evidence.”
Investors and international donors seen as pivotal to reviving the economy will now be watching closely to see the final reports on elections from international observer missions invited to monitor the polls for the first time in years.
Preliminary findings from European and U.S. monitoring teams praised the peaceful vote, but raised concerns over the overt bias in the state media in the run-up to the election and intimidation of opposition supporters, among other problems.
After the deadly postelection crackdown on protesters, which Mnangagwa pledged to investigate, several diplomatic missions condemned the violence.