- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2018

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) is claiming victory in the country’s momentous national elections Monday, but protests have broken out in Harare from opposition forces challenging the preliminary returns.

The first election since a military-backed coup that ousted longtime authoritarian President Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean vote was seen as a hopeful step forward for a country racked by political instability and a devastating economic crisis. But the sharp reaction to the vote has cast a shadow over the government’s ability to move forward.

According to early results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, ZANU-PF picked up 109 seats in the 210-seat parliament. Opposition party MDC managed to win 41 seats. As of Wednesday, the winners of the remaining 58 seats have yet to be declared.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the longtime opposition party now headed by Nelson Chamisa, claimed that the results of the vote indicate a rigged election.

“The results are a gimmick to try and prepare Zimbabwe for a rigged election. If President Chamisa wins this election then the people of Zimbabwe will have their government,” Nkululeko Sibanda, MDC alliance spokesman, told Al Jazeera.

ZANU-PF charges that MDC members have exacerbated post-vote tensions by preemptively declaring Mr. Chamisa the winner. MDC declared earlier this month that they would not accept the results of a vote that saw Mr. Chamisa defeated.

“Let me also warn such individuals and groups that no one is above the law,” Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said. Security forces “will remain on high alert and continue to monitor the security situation in the country.”

After the early results came in on Wednesday, police and opposition forces reportedly clashed in the streets of Harare.

Police fired water cannons and tear gas on supporters of Mr. Chamisa as they started fires near the ZANU-PF Headquarters, chanting “We will defend our vote!” according to wire service reports.

Mr. Mnangagwa issued a call for peace and civility in response to the unrest.

“At this crucial time, I call on everyone to desist from provocative declarations and statements. We must all demonstrate patience and maturity, and act in a way that puts our people and their safety first. Now is the time for responsibility and above all, peace,” Mr. Mnangagwa tweeted.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, was one of many official observers of the election. The international community has not been allowed to monitor elections in Zimbabwe since 2002.

“As an official observer of the country’s elections, I have watched eager Zimbabweans line up across dozens of rural villages to cast their votes. Excitement and hope is still in the air. As the ballots are counted and the election results are determined, I urge the Zimbabwean government to remain committed to peaceful, fair, and democratic reform,” Mr. Flake said in a statement.

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