Rioting erupted Wednesday in Zimbabwe’s capital as opposition supporters clashed with police and army troops over delays in announcing results from the presidential election, the country’s first since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe.
The security forces opened fire with guns, water cannons and tear gas, and protesters burned cars and threw rocks as helicopters hovered above Harare. A lifeless body was seen near the demonstration.
Armored personnel carriers ferried troops and riot police to the scene.
Dark smoke rose near the offices of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission where protesters burned tires and at least two vehicles. The commission postponed announcing results of Monday’s tightly fought presidential race, pitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
The commission said it would release vote totals “sometime” Thursday, even though it said most of the results “are here with us.” Agents for all 23 candidates must verify them first, it said.
The ruling ZANU-PF party won a majority of seats in Parliament, the electoral commission said.
“The more the presidential vote is delayed, the more it calls into question the population’s confidence in the election process,” said former Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the lead observer of a U.S. monitoring mission.
“The longer it (the delay in announcing the results of the presidential race), the more the issue of lack of credibility arises,” European Union observer Elmar Brok said. Both the EU and U.S. missions urged the release of the presidential results as soon as possible. The EU mission questioned why presidential votes were counted first but were being announced last.
The EU observer mission expressed “serious concerns” as representatives of Western and other groups gave their first assessments of whether the vote was free and fair — crucial for lifting international sanctions on the once-prosperous country.
The EU observer mission said “a truly level playing field was not achieved” in the election, pointing out the “misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behavior by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media.” It said the election campaign and voting were largely peaceful, in a break from the past.
The opposition has alleged irregularities, saying voting results were not posted outside one-fifth of polling stations as required by law.
Mnangagwa’s government has accused Chamisa and his supporters of inciting violence by declaring he had won. “Let me also warn such individuals and groups that no one is above the law,” Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said.
The violence was an unnerving reminder of the tensions that pervade this southern African nation, debilitated by Mugabe’s long, repressive rule. The 94-year-old former leader had been in power since independence from white minority rule in 1980 until he was forced to resign in November after the military and ruling party turned on him.
Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who fell out with Mugabe and then took over from him, has said his showing in the election was “extremely positive,” while urging people to wait for official results.
Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party has claimed victory based on results supporters said they collected from agents in the field.
“We won the popular vote & will defend it!” Chamisa tweeted.
The violence appeared to dash the hopes of Zimbabweans that the peaceful vote would lift them out of decades of economic and political stagnation under Mugabe, but the country is haunted by a history of electoral violence and manipulation that means trust is scarce.